Reading Earth signs: an example

Earth Day, April 22 would have been a perfect occasion to fuse the sacred and the secular, to apprehend the holy in the everyday. It was obvious that one of the great signs of the times to emerge in the past 40 years was the cry of the environment. The creative indweling of the Spirit in the world made this day ripe for some serious reflection. But for many Catholic prelates it was just another Sunday. They missed a great opportunity  to raise up the sacred  value of the natural world. They missed a great opportunity to speak to the concerns of youth who will inherit this mess.

Our theology has always had a sense that  the Spirit is what is holding everything together, that indeed everything abides in God “in whom we love  and move and have our being. “ (Acts 17:29.)

But so few Catholic parishes embraced this idea. Such is the lack of a sacramental imagination in too many ecclesial settings.Yje Elewgere God still reigns.

One dynamic parish which did embrace this sign of the time was St.Cuthbert’s an Anglican parish in Oakville, Ontario.

On the cover of the parish bulletin was a beautiful picture of our earth with the heading EARTH DAY WORSHIP.

The liturgy was a model of connections being made, that the Earth indeed was the Lord’s and the Spirit permeated it

Canon Joe Asselin in the Call to Worship proclaimed: Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice.

To which the congregation responded: Let the sea roar, and all that fills it.

Celebrant : Let the field exult, and everything in it.

All: Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord.

The table had been set for this glorious celebration. All the readings and the hymns served this creation theme.The Gospel introduced us to “the faithful and prudent manager whom his master put in chargé,,,” (Luke 12: 42 ff).

The liturgy included A Prayer of Confession and Absolution. Here is a brief taste:

Faithful One

We have erred

We have caused the extinction of species,

of cultures, of language…

Joe Asselin’s sermon fused theological acumen and cultural awareness:
In Joni Mitchell’s song about the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, she sings about how underneath this movement of young people was a desire to get back to the garden. While I don’t know much about her religious beliefs, listen to a few of her lyrics and notice how theological her message was about that time and hear some of the spiritual longing that was present in those days.

Mitchell sings, “I came upon a child of god. He was walking along the road. And when I asked him, where are you going? This he told me. We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”.

I was thinking of that song during Lent when a group of us were reading a book by Adam Hamilton on the seven last words of Christ where a predominant theme in the book is how often gardens are used as a metaphor in the scriptures.

In the beginning of course, we were in a garden. In both of the Creation stories that are found in the first and second chapters of Genesis an image is painted whereby it’s clear that in the beginning, we were in peace and harmony not only with God and with each other, but with Creation itself. The earth was blessed by God to be productive and we were to benefit from and take care of what the earth provides. In this partnership between us, God and the earth, we are placed in the role of stewards.

And as God looked out upon all that God had made, God says that it was good and we were at peace, in the garden, with each other and with God.

You can see where Asselin is going with this.

Well what we know is that Jesus went down this path towards the cross so that we would be reconciled with God and with each other. What we sometimes forget though is that Christ also seeks our reconciliation with the earth itself.”

He continued:

And so if Earth Sunday is to mean something beyond just recognizing God’s beauty in Creation, this must also be a time for us to repent. We need to repent for taking the earth for granted. We need to repent for believing that we own the earth, rather than accepting our more humble role as stewards. We need to repent of our waste and over consumption. We also need to repent of the kind short-term thinking which has brought us to the point where our current way of living just isn’t sustainable into the future.

To end on a hopeful note, the priest stated

But if I know anything about Jesus and his gospel is that he and his message is always hopeful. We can always change, we can always start over again, and all of us, because of his love and sacrifice on the cross, can be new creations.

And so, even though there is much that’s quite serious about the state of our environment and the challenges which our lifestyle creates for the earth, it’s also good to remember some wonderful success stories.

He showed how there have been strides made in our earth loyalty, The sermon and the liturgy itself combined  prophetic challenge and hope-filled suggestions.

Here was a classic example of a Christian reading the signs of the time—and responding creatively to them.


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