JUNE 2020 RECOLLECTION: The Beauty of Creation
Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
Psalm 104:1-2; 5-6; 10. 12-14; 24.31.35c.
The beauty and the grandeur of God is imprinted in creation. All of it sings and acclaims the power and majesty of God. The Sacred Scriptures reminds us of it in many passages in which they attribute human characteristics to the elements of creation that sing, applaud, acclaim God himself, as an invitation to the humans to elevate their prayer of praise and gratitude to God. For St. Augustine, creation was not only a source of things that satisfy the needs of man, but fundamentally as sacramentum, a sign of the greatness and omnipotence of God. Unfortunately, as Pope Francis recently exposed in the encyclical Laudato Si’, contemporary man has forgotten these elements, as well as his role as steward and administrator of the work of God. For this reason, let us reflect this month on the importance of respect for creation.
Enter into yourself.
Let us now dispose ourselves to live this day of recollection. The human being is by himself in darkness, obscurity and is from all sides surrounded by the marks of sin. We need to come near to God by means of the Holy Spirit to be enlightened, to free ourselves from sin, to live fully for Christ. In a moment of silence and recollection, let us invoke the help of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, let your Spirit enlighten us that we may be illumined, for he is the light that illumines; let us acknowledge that if we separate ourselves from him we fall into darkness. With his flame we are warmed; if we move away from him we freeze; if we come near to him again, we are warmed, we are enlightened and we are filled with warmth, through Jesus Christ our Lord (en. Ps.65:13 [paraphrased]).
Your voice is my joy.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I slowly read the following words from Psalm 104, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
1 Bless the Lord, my soul
Lord God, how great you are,
Clothed in majesty and glory,
2 Wrapped in light as in a robe!
You stretch out the heavens like a tent
5 You founded the earth on its base
To stand firm from age to age
6 you wrapped it with the ocean like a cloak:
The waters stood higher than the mountains.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys:
They flow in between the hills.
12 On their banks dwell the birds of heaven,
From their branches they sing their song.
13 from your dwelling you water the hills;
Earth drinks its fill of your gift.
14 You made the grass grow for the cattle
And the plants to serve man’s needs,
That he may bring forth bread from the earth.
24 How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your riches.
31 May the glory of the Lord last forever!
May the Lord rejoice in his works!
35c Bless the Lord, my soul!
The firmament of Scriptures.
This Psalm has been described as a grandiose canticle of the creatures to the Creator, and follows the same order of the cosmogony of Genesis 1; in seven stanzas it makes a canticle of praise to God the Creator.
1st stanza vv. 1-4= A celestial theophany of the Creator.
2nd stanza vv. 5-9= Divine dominion over the chaotic waters.
3rd stanza vv. 10-18=Life on the earth supplied with streams, fruit trees and animals.
4th stanza vv. 19-24= Time and daily life. Rhythm of sun and moon.
5th stanza vv. 25-26= The sea with ships and living beings.
6th stanza vv. 27-30= All creatures depend on the Creator, Giver of Life.
7th stanza vv. 31-35= Cosmic Theophany with the canticle of the creatures to the Creator and the elimination of evil.
The human citizen of our time, caught in the midst of his own programming of life, in the midst of apparent comforts that technology offers, in the midst of necessities created by pre-established agenda, has been losing the contemplation of nature, and consequently has stopped admiring the work of God. The sea, the rivers, the trees, the animals, the sun, the moon are elements that are of little or no significance for the human being. They are valuable only in so far as they satisfy his consumeristic needs.
Instead of making a commentary on this marvelous Psalm, we invite the reader to contemplation by pointing out some particular phrases:
How countless are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your riches. (v.24)
Throughout the creation and the works of God we are called to protect our common home, which is the home God has given to us, as Pope Francis very well expresses in his encyclical Laudato Si’: Glory to God, forever, may the Lord rejoice in his works! (v.31).
God so loves man that he gave him high ways and tracks for the human being to find him. St. Augustine would emphasize two paths: a living encounter through his own revelation, by means of his word in the Bible, and a cosmological encounter through a book God has written, that is the book of his creatures (en. Ps. 45:7). For St. Augustine, the cosmos that surround the human being is not only a means by which the human being can satisfy his needs, nor is it only a habitat wherein he lives. The world, the whole creation are a living and patent sign of the existence of a loving God who has disposed everything for the human being (en. Ps.8:10). That is why St. Augustine on commenting upon the Psalm says:
“Heaven proclaims the glory of God” (Ps. 18:1) “Through him all things were made and without him nothing was made. The heavens proclaimed, proclaim and will proclaim the glory of God” (en, Ps. 18:2,3).
In this way, St. Augustine points out that everything created by God is an invitation to acknowledge the greatness and the beauty of God, and to seek an encounter with him, recognizing on the one hand the smallness proper to the human being, and on the other hand the greatness of God. Creation is also a living messenger of the profound love God has for man, and of his universal call to salvation. That is why, St. Augustine would invite us to open the ears of our heart to be capable to listen how the whole creation, animate or inanimate, has one voice and what the voice says is nothing else than that God loves us.
But also behold that heaven and earth and all they contain tell me from all sides that I should love you; they do not cease to tell it to all, so that they are without excuse. (conf. 10,8).
It is a voice that is resounding and strong, in such a way that only those who have become deaf through sin cannot hear it. That is why, St. Augustine, echoing the cosmological argument at the beginning of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, points out that whoever cannot listen to or contemplate the greatness of God in creation, becomes inexcusable of being condemned, because by obstinacy in sin or by hardness of heart, he was not able to listen to the symphony that all the creatures sing to the Creator (Rm. 1:20).
And creation becomes not only an invitation and, at the same time, an example for the human being, to praise God, but also is a territory entrusted to man, not only to obtain from it everything he needs for his temporal life, but also that he may care and cultivate the creation in the name of God, as a property that God himself has put in the charge of man. In this way, a very common idea in St. Augustine is repeated: man owns nothing but only his sins (s. 176,6).
We must understand the commentary of St. Augustine on these words of Genesis in this sense, according to which God placed man in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and have custody of it (Gen. 2:15). When St. Augustine comments on what it means to be a steward, he points out that the human being must take care and avoid that any alien element may harm it, and for this reason he deserved to be expelled from it.
He was thus placed in paradise in order to have custody of paradise for his own advantage that he may not permit into it the entry of anything inconvenient for which he would merit to be expelled from that place (Gen. litt. 8,22).
Therefore, the world, creation and the whole universe belong to God, but God entrusted it to man that he may make it bloom and contribute, so that, from its beauty and harmony, the whole of nature may continue giving glory to God, and keep reminding all men that it is necessary to raise up the head and the heart, and lift them up to God (en. Ps. 148:5).
The cry of the poor.
Our planet is suffering because the environment has been badly treated. The experts affirm that in the last years the planet has grown warmer by 1,1 oC, the principal cause being the gases with greenhouse effects, among them is found carbon dioxide. This global warming provokes the melting of glaciers, which raise the ocean level, desertification expands, modifies the rainfall such that in some regions there is drought and in others there is flooding, increases sicknesses of respiratory types, decreases the quality of underground waters, which affects the process of migration of birds. It is calculated that every year 13 million hectares of forests disappear because of logging and forest fires. Many rivers are contaminated by toxic wastes emitted by factories. Much garbage is thrown as fruit of a discard and consumeristic culture (culture of disposables). Great cities have contaminated air and face the important problems of bad sanitation. Rivers and oceans are contaminated with plastic and chemical fertilizers. The contamination of the air, sea and soil, and indiscriminate logging and burning of trees cause destruction of biodiversity and the risk of the disappearance of some species of flora and fauna. These and other problems have generated an ecological crisis.
Pope Francis wrote in 2015 the Encyclical Laudato Si’ to make a call to humanity, especially to Catholics, that we may commit ourselves to the care and conservation of our common habitat. The planet, created good and beautiful by God, and therefore is property of God, has been entrusted to us humans that we may administer it intelligently and responsibly. The United Nations Organization, that same year 2015, proposed to different governments the Objectives of Sustainable Development centered on the eradication of poverty, protection of the planet and the achievement of global prosperity.
For Pope Francis, the actual ecological crisis goes hand in hand with the social crisis, in such a way that they are the two faces of the same coin: There are no two separate crises, one environmental and another social, but only one and complex socio-environmental crisis” (LS 139).
The cause of this integral crisis is man himself, especially those who hold power in the planet, who give much importance to the technocratic model. This paradigm give priority to technology and the economy over and above the development and the welfare of man. Furthermore, our society has strong features of egoists, compulsive consumerism and the discard (disposable) culture.
That is why we require actions that take into account the integral ecology: “The paths for the solution require an integral approach to change poverty, to give back dignity to the marginalized and simultaneously take care of nature” (LS 139).We require an anthropology centered in values, especially in respect for the dignity of the human person, in the promotion of justice and the solidarity with the needy and the care for our common habitat.
There are many actuations we can personally realize in the family, and in the religious communities, a fruit of the integral ecological conversion to which the Pope invites us to take care of our common habitat: to use with moderation the sources of energy, the water and consumable goods, educate others in integral ecological responsibility, to help the migrants, collaborate in the initiatives of the Commission of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. We can perform simple acts everyday: avoid using plastic materials, reduce the consumption of water, segregate garbage, cook only what is to be eaten, use public transport, motor pool, put out unnecessary lights, recycle materials.
St. Francis of Assisi is the patron and model in the search for integral ecology. Following Jesus Christ and his Gospel he committed himself to the creatures of this common habitat. He was witness to the solidarity with the poor, of the search for peace and the care for nature. Francis lived like a poor man, he was very detached from the things he possessed, he treated the poor with great compassion and he integrated with them through concrete actions. In one occasion he said to a friar companion who judged a poor: “brother, when you see a poor, you see a mirror of the Lord and of his poor mother.” Francis was a builder of peace. God assured him of interior peace. He said that “those are truly peaceful who, with all the things they suffer in this world, for the love of Christ, they keep peace in body and soul” (Adm.15,2). Francis was a witness of peace in the mission, the same as Jesus taught to his apostles, thus he says: “In truth, I advice, admonish and exhort my friars in the Lord Jesus Christ that when they go to the world, let them not have lawsuits nor contend with words, let them not judge others, rather let them be gentle, peaceful, and moderate, meek and humble, speaking honestly to everyone as is convenient.” (RegB 30, 10-11). Francis loved creation. In his Canticle of the creatures he praises God for the beauty of the world and he was brother to creatures and respected them.
Your commitment, your response.
The universe and the whole of creation reflect the greatness of God. How is your relationship with the creatures that surround you? Are you sensitive to the beauty of the universe?
All the creatures sing the glory of God. How do you unite yourself to canticle of the universe to God? What importance does the prayer of praise have in your life?
The human being is the steward of creation in God’s name. How do you concretely carry out this role in your daily life? What “ecological” acts do you have that manifest your care and respect for creation?
“Let all devout men praise heaven, earth, and all they contain. Let all creatures glorify their Creator as they contemplate the beauty of his work without being attached to it with inordinate love” (c. Iul. 4,14,66).
“It is, therefore, necessary to know the Maker through the creatures and discover in them, and in a certain and worthy proportion, the vestige of the Trinity. It is in this Highest Trinity where is rooted the supreme origin of all things, the perfect beauty and the complete joy” (trin. 6,10,12).