Touch the earth with gentleness

Fr Colum O’Shea SMA spoke on the 3rd night of the annual Novena in honour of St Therese in Dromantine [September 2015]. His topic directly relates to the Paris Climate Conference now taking place in Paris.


Caring for the earth is our topic for today. This is a subject that is topical at the moment. 

At the end of November this year, world leaders will meet in Paris at the UN Climate Summit.

And of course we have had the recent publication of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter, “Laudato Si”, subtitled, ‘on the care for our common home.’

We may ask why or where all of this is coming from? What has given rise to this?

For a start, caring for the earth, is not something new. It is as old as humankind.

Our ancestors appreciated that they depended on the earth for their survival and wellbeing and they tried to live in harmony with the earth and with nature in general.

This is borne out by the various rituals and celebrations that we read about. Many of these celebrations have been condemned as ‘pagan’. Some of our Christian celebrations have their origins in these so called ‘pagan’ celebrations.

Brien Friel wrote a play called, ‘Dancing at Luanasa’. It was subsequently made into a film. You may have seen it. It highlights the tension that these so-called ‘pagan’ rituals evoked.

I feel our ancestors made a better job at caring for the earth and the environment than we have. Like Adam and Eve before us, we got notions and we lost the run of ourselves. That can happen when we achieve some success. During our short sojourn on this earth we have witnessed the most extraordinary advances in science, in technology and in communications.

While we welcome and benefit from the progress and wonderful achievements of our modern world, we also acknowledge that they come at a price. Control and power bring their own problems. The price has been and is being borne by the earth and the environment. The attitude is, ‘we are masters of creation and we can do as we wish.’ ‘We are no longer carers of the earth, we are the masters.’ The result is that the environment is suffering and therefore we will suffer.

We may not be feeling the full effects of climate change yet compared with other parts of the world. We, SMAs, have seen the effects in Africa and other developing countries, where harvests fail due to drought and deforestation.

You may recall ‘Typhoon Haiyan’ which devastated parts of the Philippines in November 2013. It is always the poor who suffer from these disasters.

Pope Francis’ encyclical letter addresses these issues and much more. Now an encyclical is a teaching document issued by the Pope. This is the first time an encyclical has been devoted entirely to the environment and environmental issues. And it is addressed to peoples of all faiths and of none.

As you know, when Pope Francis became pope, he chose the name Francis because of his admiration and devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is renowned for his great love of nature and for the poor. St. Francis composed a song called ‘The Canticle of the Sun’ and the first words are ‘Laudato Si’, (Be praised or Praise be to you). Hence the title of this encyclical.

Pope Francis’ encyclical is sub titled, ‘care for our common home.’ The earth is home. We have come from the earth and we will return to the earth. In between these two happenings, our home, the earth, sustains us and provides us with all we need.  All the more reason why we should care for it. 

Hopefully, when our world leaders meet in Paris in December they will respond to some of the serious issues which Pope Francis raises in his encyclical.

What contribution can I make towards caring for the earth?

I am very grateful that I was born into this beautiful world and that I was blessed with the years and good health in order to enjoy this life. I ask myself now, what can I do to ensure that those who come after me will be able to enjoy a safe and healthy environment?

You parents invest most of your time and energy in the future wellbeing of your children and grand-children.

In his encyclical letter Pope Francis asks, “What kind of world do I want to leave to our children?” He goes on to suggest a number of what he calls, “little daily actions”. These include, “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport, turning off unnecessary lights.” You may be already doing some of these.

You might like to read the Pope’s encyclical letter. It is a long letter, 123 pages. It is most informative and a challenging read.

There is the Thumbprint Campaign organised by our JPIC office. Your thumbprint is something unique that identifies you among all others in the world in which we live. The Thumbprint Campaign, asks people to make your mark for climate change, to promise or pledge to take better care of the world God entrusted to our care.

I would also suggest the practise of praying grace before and after meals. Again you may be doing that. But I think it helps focus our minds on the fact that the food and drink we depend upon for our survival, the air we breathe, all of these are produced by the earth.

Finally, become more aware of and take greater interest in the environment and in caring for the earth. Let us be responsible stewards of God’s creation.

Touch the earth with gentleness
Touch the earth with love
Touch her with a future
By the way we live today
God has given us the power
To create the earth anew
If we touch the earth together you and me.

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