We are reminded of the story of Cain and Abel in paragraph 70. In childhood, it was a story about giving God the best we have and looking after each other, but for Pope Francis and his writing team, it is a cautionary tale, illustrating that
Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered.(If you ever want to read a thought-provoking and challenging book with a very interesting take on the story of Cain and Abel (and a lot of the other cultural myths that have affected humanity) I'd highly recommend Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, a novel by Daniel Quinn (Bantam 1992, ISBN 0-553-37549-7). I don't reread very many books, but this one has been haunting me lately, which tells me I should probably reread it. If you want more details, feel free to drop me a line...)
The story of Noah is mentioned as another cautionary tale, just before we hear Laudato Si's main refrain for the second time: "These ancient stories, full of symbolism, bear witness to a conviction which today we share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others." I just wish we had shared this conviction from the get go -- the earth wouldn't be as messed up if we had been more interested in preserving all its interconnection rather than feeding human greed.
What I really like in paragraph 71 is the line, "All it takes is one good person to restore hope!" Referring, of course, to Noah's willingness to stand out from the crowd to do what God asked. Didn't you love that story as a kid? The guy who went against the grain, building a mammoth boat while all his neighbours laughed, loading on the animals and waiting for rain in an heroic effort to save creation -- except I always felt sad that the people around Noah didn't understand the need to change. Still, it's a good story with a beautiful, rainbow ending, one that we can only work and pray for with our current environmental crisis.
Another beautiful piece of these early Scriptures was the idea of Sabbath, or a day of rest, and giving the earth a break to "ensure balance and fairness" for the earth and its inhabitants, especially "the poor and the sojourner" (paragraph 71). This was carried further in what's called Shemitah, leaving the land fallow for in the seventh year to allow it to replenish itself and allowing those who work the soil to take a break and follow more "spiritual pursuits." And then, after seven times seven years, there was to be a jubilee year in which everyone took a break from work and forgave debts and started fresh once again.
Of course, in our crazy consumer culture, we shop just as hard on our Sabbaths as we do other days of the week, never mind take the seventh day, the seventh year, or a jubilee year off. It's been over thirty years since our stores were given the right to stay open on Sundays in Canada, and for many city dwellers, it requires true effort to keep any day holy and restful when family members with retail positions have to work. How do you keep Sabbath?
Laudato Si then jumps to the Psalms, which exhort us and all creatures to sing praise and adoration of the God who lives with and beside us. Paragraph 72 is pretty weak when it comes to the emotion, poetry, power and depth of the way the Psalms can be prayed to express our relationship with God, but as they are quoted throughout Pope Francis' letter to the world, it's probably enough just to mention them.
In paragraph 73 the "prophets invite us to find renewed strength in times of trial by contemplating the all-powerful God who created the universe.... the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected." The encyclical team closes paragraph 73's musings about the prophets with a quote from Isaiah, who reminds us that God "gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless." Just what we need to hear after reading all of the earth's problems Pope Francis listed in Chapter one that might leave us feeling overwhelmed.
The Babylonian captivity, when the people of Israel were forced out of their homeland to live in exile for almost 70 years, is mentioned in paragraph 74 as an example of a time of trial and persecution that led to a deeper faith in God. God's "creative omnipotence was given pride of place in order to exhort the people to regain their hope in the midst of their wretched predicament," and the same thing happened in the early Christian era when the followers of Christ found themselves persecuted by the Roman Empire.
What's interesting to me is that all of these examples of the trials and struggles of believers throughout the Bible are held up as examples to us who face the trials and struggles that have come about because of the overuse of creation's resources through rampant consumerism and human greed. Clearly, we are in similar straits, a time when we can glean some encouragement from the way that our ancestors came through trying times by trusting in God and doing what they could.
Paragraph 75 points out that "A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. 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 [God's] creation underfoot." Our forgetfulness of the fact that we are not God and that everything is gift, as I mentioned last week, has gotten us into this mess. Remembering that we are only one of God's interconnected creatures and living as though everything in our lives is a gift would go a long way toward cleaning it up. Or as the last lines of paragraph 75 say, "The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim of absolute dominion over the earth is to speak once more of a... [God] who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality."
But I'm going back to the last lines of paragraph 74 for the last words in this Sunday's reflection: "The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible."
Injustice is not invincible! Especially if we are aware that We are all Noah. Every last one of us. We are called to see the wrongs around us, and to take a stand against them. Because injustices are ingrained in our culture, we may have to become counter-cultural, to appear a little crazy for a time in order to draw attention to the particular injustices to which our sleeping world has become immune. I doubt we'll have to build an Ark, but we might have to do something even harder in this day and age -- to be vocal about our choice NOT to shop on Sunday, or NOT to take flamboyant vacations in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. To NOT buy the latest cool but unnecessary gadget or NOT to support a company that sells genetically modified foods. In other words, to BE A SIGN, a role model, and an example of doing the just thing -- even if it's only our families and friends who might notice what we're doing.
How will you be a Noah in the week ahead? For the rest of your days?
Next up: #15... Changing ourselves and our world