Sunday Reflection for September 1 by Joe Gunn

Reflection on the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time and World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation September 1, 2019

St. Joseph’s Parish – Ottawa, ON

Joe Gunn


The readings this weekend, especially from the Book of Sirach and Luke’s Gospel, all touch on the theme of humility. For each of us, there is no question that humility is a virtue worth developing… because we all probably know from experience that “whoever exalts himself will (inevitably) be humbled.” And we’d all surely like to believe that “whoever humbles himself will (hopefully, one day) be exalted.”

But the challenge to “conduct our affairs with humility” (First Reading) – while being a personal requirement for all Gospel-followers – might also take on a new, more communal and broader significance, today.

Humilis, “lowly”
Literally, “on the ground.”
From the Latin humus, “earth.”

Because humankind has shown an astounding lack of humility in our treatment of Creation. The opposite of humility could be pride – and human beings, especially we in the overdeveloped North, pride ourselves on having no limits to what we can demand of nature and consume…

The so-called “Anthropocene era” we live in is so named because for the first time in Earth history, human behavior has become the major cause of the destruction of natural systems by using our power to sully the waters, extract unlimited quantities of resources, drive species to extinction, and humans are even now changing the very climate that life on Earth depends on for survival. We people of the Global North race for the best seat and the biggest plate at God’s banquet of Creation – we ignore Jesus’ injunction to “invite beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

Today the universal Church, Orthodox Christians and Protestant members of the World Council of Churches all agree to celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The Season of Creation is to be marked from today until the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and of the environment, on October 4th.

And in the Season of Creation, we should be deeply challenged to humbly do all we can to address the environmental crisis.

So how will we do that at St. Joe’s? The wisdom of the worldwide Church may help guide us in this endeavor…

So, first of all we have the terrific social teaching of the Church, which from various popes is now hundreds of years old – but the Church’s teaching on “social justice” took a huge step forward towards “ecological justice” in Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si. Francis calls us to work towards “integral ecology” by which he means solidarity with all Creation. Francis’ mantra is that “everything is connected.” He helps us to interpret the Bible and Church teaching with a “green lens.” We are to be in solidarity with the Earth, while creating a better life especially for those populations excluded by our economies and social systems. Francis insists that the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are one and the same.

And the pope has called for a special Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October in Rome. The title of this month-long conference is “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” If you’re read anything about the Synod in the North American press, you’ve heard that the preparatory document suggests ordination of married men in areas where the sacraments are not able to be provided by celibate priests. You may recall that Oblate bishops suggested the same thing for isolated northern Canadian communities decades ago…

But in the 9 countries of the Amazon biome, hundreds of meetings have taken place to identify the most pressing issues of faith communities there. These themes should interest Canadians as well:

For example, what steps are Christians taking towards eco-justice? What is a Christian response to the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest, which the pope has referred to as “the lungs of the world…vital to our planet?” You’ve recently heard in the news that the number of fires has risen 79% in the Brazilian Amazon this year, and in spite of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s (the man who called himself “Captain Chainsaw”) accusation that NGOs  started them, we know that much forest clearance today is illegal, involving incursions into Indigenous lands, protected areas or timber reserves, as well as clearance by fire of more than the permitted amount of land by agricultural operations. (John Innes, Dean of the UBC Forestry faculty, in the Globe and Mail, August 28, 2019.) Even the G-7 leaders meeting in France decided that this was a massive global concern.

Canadians might be equally concerned, for the same reasons, for the protection of our Boreal forest.

A second theme recognizable to Canadians will be respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples and how we must de-colonialize Church actions and theologies; there are 3 million Indigenous in the Amazon, and up to 130 groups still in “voluntary isolation.” During his visit to Bolivia, Francis apologized to Indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in colonization. This Synod will defend their territorial rights, especially in the face of planned agro-industrial mega-projects, dams and timber harvesting – all part of what the Church is calling “the extractivist development model.”

Here at St. Joe’s, we can learn more about these issues in two ways: this fall Development and Peace’s Action Campaign will focus on the themes of the Synod, and you will be invited to sign a petition in support of church partners working for eco-justice in the Amazon region. Also, on November 12, the Centre Oblat and St. Paul University have invited the vice-chair of the Synod, Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto, to share his reflections with Canadians.

Something called the Global Catholic Climate Movement arose in response to Laudato Si, and a Canadian chapter has now been formed, with the active participation of the Oblates. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today – what would the planet look like if all of us took the pope’s encyclical, environmental responsibility (and our faith) seriously? The Global Catholic Climate Movement has resources available to help us grow in this new ministry. They support events like the upcoming Climate Strike scheduled for the week of September 20th, led by young people like Sweden’s 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, where young people are demanding climate action from governments around the world.

Here in Ottawa, hundreds of kids will be on Parliament Hill. They’re disappointed in Canada’s market-led approach to climate action, arguing that our country is not doing enough to meet our commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. They’re right – Canada remains the top per capita emitter among G-20 countries and is the world’s 7th largest emitter overall. Yet, as a federal election approaches, politicians are declining to act with sufficient ambition. People of faith may remember that in September 2015, before the last federal election, religious leaders (including Canada’s Catholic bishops) issued a joint statement that called upon our federal government to “establish more stringent and ambitious emission targets in Canada by…putting in place a range of policies which could include: a price on carbon emissions, developing and promoting a national renewable energy policy, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and encouraging through public policy the creation of an increasing number of high quality, sustainable jobs in the renewable energy sector.”

The story that we heard today in Luke’s gospel would surely have been a surprise to the religious leaders present that day. Jesus’ invitation list and seating plan would have come in stark contrast to their accepted practice. Jesus challenged the systems that accorded status and honour to some and shame, suffering and discrimination to others. We shouldn’t expect His message to be less biting in our hearing, today. But by adopting a commitment to bring “integral ecology” into our prayer lives, our personal lifestyles, and public policy in this country, our faith invites us to allow this Season of Creation to come alive.

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