On the first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, the preacher to the papal household said that St. Francis of Assisi is a key model in showing the link between faith in God and care for our common home.
Saint Francis “is living proof of the contribution that faith in God can give to the common effort for the protection of creation," Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., said Sept. 1 during his homily for a Liturgy of the Word presided over by Pope Francis, which was celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica.
“His love for creatures is a direct consequence of his faith in the universal paternity of God."
The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation was instituted by Pope Francis last month to coincide with the Eastern Orthodox Church’s day of celebration for creation, which has taken place this day since since 1989.
Although Pope Francis presided over the celebration, Fr. Cantalamessa (who has been preacher to the Papal Household since he was appointed by St. John Paul II in 1980) gave the homily.
The liturgy began with the Canticle of the Three Young Men from the book of Daniel, and the Christian prayer in union with creation found at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’.
There was then a first reading, from Genesis 1; a responsorial, Psalm 148; a second reading, from Laudato Si’; an Alleluia; and a Gospel reading, from Matthew 6.
Fr. Cantalamessa delivered his homily following the proclamation of the Gospel.
One of the greatest sins against creation, the Capuchin Franciscan priest said, is not listening to God’s voice, but “condemning it irretrievably, Saint Paul would say, to vanity, to insignificance."
The priest turned to God’s first commandment to man and woman, do “fill the earth and subdue it," as well as his charge that man would have dominion over the earth.
Often these passages are interpreted with a secular mindset in which the word “dominate" is taken out of the biblical context, he said, portraying a “political sovereign exploiting his subjects" rather than a father who guards and preserves his creatures.
“There is an evident parallel: as God is dominant over man, so man should be dominant over the rest of creation, that is, responsible for it and guarding it," the priest said.
“Faith in God the creator and in man made in God’s image is therefore not a threat, but rather a guarantee for creation, and the strongest of all. He says that man is not absolute master of other creatures: he must account for what he received."
A demonstratation that man’s abuse of creation does not follow the biblical vision is that today’s pollution map doesn’t coincide with the spread of the biblical region, but rather that “of a wild industrialization, turned only to profit, and with that the corruption that closes the mouth of all protests and resists all powers."
Instead, the Bible brings to light a natural hierarchy which can be seen throughout nature, the priest observed.
This is a hierarchy, he said, is “for life, not against it," and can be violated in various ways, such as when some spend ostentatious amounts on their pets and allow millions of children to “die of hunger and disease underneath their eyes."
What St. Francis of Assisi shows us is a way to radically change our relationship with creation, in which we replace possession with contemplation, the preacher said.
Saint Francis, Fr. Cantalamessa noted, “found a different way to praise things, which is to contemplate, rather than owning them. He can rejoice in all things, because he has given up on owning any."
“Possession excludes, contemplation includes; possession divides, contemplation multiplies," he said, explaining that while only one person can own a lake or park, thus excluding others, when these things are left for contemplation, thousands can enjoy them without taking away from anyone else.
He also spoke pointed to the Gospel passage which was read, in which Christ says not to worry about what we will eat or drink, or what tomorrow will bring.
This passage, the priest observed, might seem contradictory to Laudato Si’, in which Pope Francis encouraged others to be concerned about the future of the planet.
Rather than being in contradiction, the Gospel passage “puts the axe to the root – the same axe to the very same root at which Pope Francis puts his encyclical," when it states at the beginning that “you cannot serve both man and wealth," Fr. Cantalamessa said.
The preacher added that no-one can truly serve the cause of protecting creation without having the courage “of pointing the finger against the exaggerated accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few and against the money that measures them."
Although Christ never condemned wealth in itself, what he did condemn was dishonest wealth, gained at the expense of others as a result of corruption and which is deaf to the needs of the poor.
What the Gospel passage says and what Pope Francis says in Laudato Si’ have the same undertone, namely, not to be concerned with our own tomorrow, but with the tomorrow “of those who will come after" us.
The example of St. Francis of Assisi, he said, shows that a religious attitude toward creation is not something far-fetched, but is based on something concrete.
He noted how the saint at one point said, “I don’t want to be a thief of alms," meaning he was receiving more than he needed, and was thus taking away from others.
“Today this rule could have a very useful application for the future of the earth," Fr. Cantalamessa said, explaining that while St. Francis didn’t have the global, planetary vision of the world’s ecological problem, he had a local, immediate vision.
St. Francis of Assisi “thought about what he could do and possibly his brother friars. Also in this he teaches us something," the priest said, pointing to the popular slogan, “Think globally, act locally."
“What sense does it have, for example, to pick on those who pollute the atmosphere, oceans, and forests, if I don’t hesitate to throw a plastic bag in the bank of a riverbed that will remain there for centuries unless someone retrieves it?" he asked.
Like peace, protecting creation is something “handcrafted" that begins with ourselves, he said, quoting a phrase of Pope Francis.
He concluded by saying that if St. Francis of Assisi were alive today, he might add another verse to his famous prayer, this time praising God “for all those who work to protect our sister mother Earth, scientists, politicians, heads of all religious and men of good will."
“Praise be, my Lord, for him who, together in my name, has also taken my message and today is bringing it to the whole world!"