Christmas and the Annunciation have much to teach us about our role in creation. Christ’s entry into human history calls us to echo the Blessed Mother’s “Yes” to God, to align our ways with God’s ways—to willingly take part in the unfolding salvation of our fallen world, even if we don’t always (or precisely) understand what we’re supposed to do.
One thing that we in the twenty-first century certainly understand is that humans are dependent creatures. Much like an unborn child in a mother’s womb, our species lives in a self-contained ecosystem and we can not create what sustains us. We require the radiative energy of our sun and, infinitely more important, the eternal life of the Spirit of God.
All this comes to mind in Verbum Domini, the Holy Father’s recently published reflections on a 2008 meeting of bishops held at the Vatican. The meeting’s theme, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” sought to explore Holy Scripture’s interaction with the current age. One item on the agenda was our relationship with creation.
The Holy Father notes that “engagement with the world, as demanded by God’s word, makes us look with new eyes at the entire created cosmos, which contains traces of that Word through whom all things were made (see Jn 1:2). As men and women who believe in and proclaim the Gospel, we have a responsibility towards creation. Revelation makes known God’s plan for the cosmos, yet it also leads us to denounce that mistaken attitude which refuses to view all created realities as a reflection of their Creator, but instead as mere raw material, to be exploited without scruple.”
Benedict XVI writes that when individuals and cultures don’t view creation as the loving gift of God, humanity will “exploit and disfigure nature, failing to see it as the handiwork of the creative word.”
The Holy Father then quotes the bishops directly: “’’Accepting the word of God, attested to by Scripture and by the Church’s living Tradition, gives rise to a new way of seeing things, promotes an authentic ecology which has its deepest roots in the obedience of faith … [and] develops a renewed theological sensitivity to the goodness of all things, which are created in Christ.’ We need to be re-educated in wonder,” the pontiff adds, “and in the ability to recognize the beauty made manifest in created realities.”
And so this Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Christ, let us question how we may “be re-educated” in our wonderment and understanding of the gift of creation, and our responsibility towards it.
In doing so we might heed what science is telling us about our impacts on our climate, about how our consumption can contaminate our air, water, land and even our own bodies. We might pay more attention to the choices made by our elected officials, by our business leaders and by ourselves.
We might decide to consume less or recycle more. We might choose to become more efficient users of energy. We might use public transportation, reusable grocery bags or compost kitchen wastes to make first-rate fertilizer. We might use safer alternatives to toxic household cleaning materials. We might support local farms—the ones that grow food as well as those that supply electricity from wind turbines.
The list goes on. But none of this means anything unless we connect our actions with a fidelity to and love of Christ.
As the Season of Christmas comes this December 25th, let us heed Verbum Domini’s call for an “authentic ecology”— one that sees in our world the Creator’s activity of sacrificial love. Let our Christmas gift to creation be a renewed sense of dependency on, and appreciation of, the very cosmos that God has made and, in the fullness of time, joined with to save.
William Patenaude is an engineer specializing in environmental regulation and a graduate student of theology at Providence College. He is a parishioner of SS. Rose and Clement Church in Warwick.