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All Creation Reveals God


Dominion or Domination?
God Connects Everything
Celebrating the God of Life

In his Second Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano writes, “In beautiful things, he [Francis of Assisi] discerns Beauty; all good things cry out to him: ‘The One who made us is the Best.’ Following the footprints imprinted on creatures, he follows his Beloved everywhere; out of them all he makes for himself a ladder by which he might reach the Throne [of God]” (Chapter 124).

Francis did not always feel that way. The wealthy young man who loved to host lavish parties for his friends later expanded his vision to see, for example, the sun, the moon, people ready to forgive and even death itself as Sister or Brother.

When Francis kissed a man suffering from leprosy, a spiritual revolution began. “They” became “we.” Francis realized that all people were valuable in themselves and not simply for how they might benefit him.

Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures, composed when he was almost blind, celebrates God’s generosity and goodness as reflected in all creation. Most people see Francis as an appropriate patron of ecology. Perhaps that’s why many non-Christians find Assisi more welcoming than other Christian sites.


Dominion or Domination?

Part of Francis’ conversion included his rejecting domination over creation, including other people. In the Bernardone cloth shop, he once threw out a poor man seeking food. Francis later found the man and gave him something to eat. Years later Francis quoted Proverbs 17:5, “Those who mock the poor insult their Maker” (RSV).

It’s easy to fool ourselves about how much we can truly own things. Because we purchase them, insure them and eventually dispose of them, we are tempted to consider our ownership absolute or apart from God’s sovereign ownership of all creation.

A car accident, a fatal illness, a stroke or the death of a loved one can help us see ownership more realistically. It is a relative, not an absolute right, not something to be pursued at all costs. Francis was horrified at the thought of “appropriating” what truly belongs to God alone.

In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve dominion over all creation, but instead they sought domination, the right to determine all the consequences of their actions, the right to use things apart from God’s intention for them.

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” they might have said about eating the forbidden fruit, precisely because they didn’t want it to matter, because their life would be easier if it didn’t matter. But it did.

God Connects Everything

Our planet is in ecological danger not because God’s creation is defective in any way but because we have not always used our freedom wisely, in ways that reflect our God-given dignity.

We have asserted our freedom to consume without accepting responsibility for how those decisions impact the lives of other people. They too are men, women and children created in the image and likeness of God.

That perspective puts a new light on seemingly ordinary daily choices—whether we recycle, how we travel, the packaging that we accept as normal for our purchases, how big a “carbon footprint” we leave on this earth each day. Everything matters because everything is connected and will ultimately return to God, the source of all life.

Celebrating the God of Life

People who have only a sentimental view of St. Francis see him as a 13th-century Dr. Dolittle, a charming man who could communicate with animals. Francis’ faith in God enabled him to do things like that.

Unfortunately, there is a ready audience for a Francis stripped of his faith in God as Creator and redeemer. This, however, is an artificial Francis, someone who can safely be admired from afar, someone whose virtues could never prompt us to question our lives radically and make changes as needed.

Francis was profoundly grateful to the God of all life. Although sin was a clear reality for Francis, he stressed even more the importance of God’s generous creation and Jesus as the firstborn of all creation (see Colossians 1:15). Blessed John Duns Scotus, a follower of Francis, later described the Incarnation of Jesus as God’s greatest work.

Yes, ours is a sinful world, and the wanton destruction of our environment is a sin. Francis reminds us that God has generously created all life. In this perspective, every sin is a failed attempt to seek new life and freedom apart from God’s plan.

Individual members of each species are uniquely loved by God precisely for what they already are, for their uniqueness.

Living in harmony with God’s creation is not a zero-sum equation, a limited situation within which each person’s dignity threatens everyone else’s. Living more respectfully of God’s creation, including other human beings, enriches each of us.

Last July, in a sermon at the church where St. Bonaventure is buried in Lyon, France, Father Andre Cirino, O.F.M., quoted Bonaventure’s saying, “Justice makes beautiful what was deformed” (Conferences on the Six Days of Creation). We owe justice to the environment as well as to people.

In each case, the deformity arises from the human heart, from an abuse of freedom. We have a good deal of eco-justice work to do, but the Lord of Life energizes all such work.—P.M.

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