Worshipping God, we embrace creation more deeply

Planet Earth: Our Common HomeIn his 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’ (LS), Pope Francis explains that liturgy enables us to understand the natural world in a transcendent way. Thus, in worshipping God, we embrace creation more deeply.

Laudato si’ is Francis’s first social encyclical. The Church’s social teaching addresses the relationship between human persons and society. But in Laudato si’, Francis deals solely with the environment. And one of the recurring themes of the encyclical is the interrelationship of all things.

Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions.

LS ¶ 137. Among these human and social dimensions is our specific relationship with God. Worship nourishes this relationship. Moreover, worship provides the deepest experience of the relationship.

Praise be to you, my Lord

Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi

Significantly, Francis both begins and ends the encyclical with words of praise for God. First, he opens with a line from Saint Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures:

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord.” In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”

LS ¶ 1.

Likewise, he concludes the encyclical with a Christian prayer in union with creation:

O Lord, seize us with your power and light, 
help us to protect all life, 
to prepare for a better future, 
for the coming of your Kingdom 
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! 

LS ¶ 246.

Theology of Creation

Francis approaches ecological problems grounded in a traditional theology of creation. So he says, “[C]reation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” LS ¶ 76. Moreover, “as part of the universe, called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect.” LS  ¶ 89. Therefore, this communion with all creation leads to praise. “When we can see God reflected in all that exists, our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them.” LS  ¶ 87.

Worshipping God, we embrace creation more deeply

Furthermore, not only does communion with creation lead to worship for God. Such worship, in turn, gives us a deeper understanding of creation. “The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.” LS  ¶ 233.

The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colors are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life.

LS  ¶ 235.

When we lose sight of God, we end up trampling his creation underfoot

To lose sight of “God as all-powerful and Creator” is not merely a religious and spiritual failure. It also fails the planet. “That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot.” LS  ¶ 75.

Creation finds its greatest exaltation in the Eucharist

The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life”. Lumen gentium ¶ 11. Therefore, Francis says that  all creation “finds its greatest exaltation” in the Eucharist. LS  ¶ 236. Creation’s response is praise. “Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed, the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love” LS  ¶ 236. Francis then quotes Saint Pope John Paul II: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.” Ecclesia de eucharistia ¶ 8.

Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus ChristEucharist is gift and response

At its core, the Eucharist is gift and response. “The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration ….” LS  ¶ 236. In creation, God gives us gifts of wheat and grapes. Then we respond, producing bread and wine which we return to God. They are gifts of praise and thanksgiving. God sends his Spirit, who transforms our gifts into the gifts of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Francis borrows words from Pope Benedict XVI: “[I]n the bread of the Eucharist, ‘creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself.’ Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.” Homily for the Mass of Corpus Domini.

All creation awaits redemption

If “the whole cosmos gives thanks to God”, it has good reason. “[W]e are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: ‘by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory,’ and indeed, ‘the Lord rejoices in all his works.'” LS  ¶ 69; Ps 104:31. Undoubtedly, God greatly loves all creation. Therefore, he unites all creation to himself.

At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God, and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the Sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new”.

LS  ¶ 243. We wait for the end of time, when each creature takes its rightful place resplendently transfigured. Id. Meanwhile, we care for our common home, Earth. “[A]ll the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast.” LS  ¶ 244.