In the Gospel for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Jesus says: “Look at the birds in the sky….your Heavenly Father feeds them….. think of the flowers growing in the fields.” So we will do just that, and speak about a Gospel of Flowers, of daisies, buttercups and bluebells.
To say that Jesus had a deep love of nature, is obvious. He entered this world in a stable, to the smell of sheep and animals. The first Scriptures he read were “the Scriptures of the Fields”.
As a young boy in Nazareth, he walked the fields with Joseph. And from Joseph, the carpenter, the expert in wood, he learned the names of trees and wild flowers. He walked the fields of Nazareth for 30 years, the roads of Galilee & Jerusalem for only three. And in those three years he went back again and again to the fields and to the mountains to pray.
Jesus walked the fields, climbed the mountains, went boating, went fishing, held open air picnics in the multiplication of the loaves, where all shared bread on the cloth of green grass. No wonder his parables smell of the land, of sheep and goats, of cornfields, of sowers and reapers.
The early Irish monks, like Jesus, found God in nature, in places like Gouganebarra, Glendalough, Skelligs Mhichil to mention a few.
St. Bernard, the monk of Clairvaux, wrote: “What I know of the divine sciences and Holy Scriptures, I learnt in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beaches and oaks.”
However, today there is a movement to the cities, a worldwide phenomenon called urbanisation. Are Gospel stories, which grew out of the land, losing meaning for urbanised people? They live in a world of concrete and steel, of highways and shopping centres. Have they lost the Gospel of the Fields? The Celts were a rural people. Our cities are all imports brought in by the Vikings.
Gerald Manley Hopkins in a poem wrote, “Feet no longer feel being shod.”
“Think of the flowers growing in the fields”……. (Mt. 6:28 in the Gospel)
The daisies and buttercups, how long more will they survive. Wild flowers only grow now in the margins of fields, or in uncultivated land. The honey bee is in crisis, due to spraying of chemicals on the land and on flowers.
So much for wild flowers, what of wild animals? Must they go too? Animals are our relatives. Scientists tell us that we share a similar DNA. Every animal, insect, tree and flower has a right to be here, because God put them here. He told us to care for them, not to exterminate them.
Reducing our planet, its flora and fauna, as something to be exploited for profit, is not acceptable. Integrity of Creation is part of our own SMA JPIC code of ethics.
We would do well to learn from nature, how all things are bound together. The bees take nectar from the flowers for honey, in return they fertilise them. The tree is nourished by the soil, the soil in turn in nourished by falling leaves. The one who receives, must also give. We have yet to learn it.
Indigenous peoples always respect the land. I began with the flowers of the field, part of the longer Sermon on the Mount. Let me conclude with the Sermon on the Plains, given by the Red Indian Chief in Seattle in 1854, when the US Government wanted to take the land from his indigenous people, and put them into reservations.
The Chief sent this message to the White Man Chief in Washington. I’ll let the Chief speak for himself and for his people:
“How can you buy or sell the sky, the rain, or the wind? Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist… every humming insect is holy to my people. We are part of the earth, and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers.
We know that the white man does not understand our ways.
The earth in not his brother, but his enemy. He treats his mother the earth, and his brother the sky, as things to be bought, plundered and sold.
What is there in life if a man cannot hear the cry of the owl, or the arguments of frogs around a pool at night? The air we breathe is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath, the beast, the tree, the people. I am a savage, and do not know any other way. Yet this I know, the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. The earth is precious to our God, and to harm the earth, is to heap contempt on the God who made it.”
One day may we all share the prairies of Paradise with this great Chief, and may we too, like him, hear the cry of the owl, calling our name from the pines of Heaven. Amen.
Homily delivered by Bishop Tim Carroll SMA at the African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork on 2 March 2014.