Pope Francis in his message to the whole world, Laudato Si, challenged us to take scientific findings about climate change and global warming seriously, but he noted that spirituality is needed as much as science. He wrote, “’Praise be to you, my Lord’. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs’.This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”
We are invited to live in a familial relationship with what God has made. We won’t save what we don’t love. How to we develop love of God’s creation? Caring for a tiny plant in the University of the Incarnate Word community garden, is one of Dominic Teran’s ways of expressing his commitment to care for the earth. As a student of math and philosophy, he takes seriously the rising numbers indicating deadly global warming and our responsibility as humans. He asks probing questions inviting others to think.
Pope Francis noted that all need “an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. (217)”
Pope Francis warned that it is not enough “to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right. (33)”
Let us think of how we can teach children of all ages and remind ourselves that each species gives “glory to God.” Do we spend our leisure time wondering around malls where we are seduced to buy more and more whether we need it or not? Or do we spend our leisure time outside contemplating the beauty of God’s creation? Do we spend our time gardening in partnership with the Creator who gave a garden and walked there (Genesis 2).
From kindergarten through graduate studies, gardens can and should be a part of every educational institution. In these we learn possibility, patience, perseverance, and wonder. We sweat and we stretch. We are delighted when the gifts appear. We learn to deal with loss when little creature have devoured the fruit before we arrive.
Laudato Si remind us that “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. . .Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us” (159).
Let us build intergenerational solidarity. Grandmothers can teach the three year old grandsons to grow parsley in a pot in the kitchen. Big brothers can lead younger siblings growing carrots in that empty bed in the front yard.
In a small amount of space between University of the Incarnate Word buildings, Teran and his fellow student gardeners grow many vegetables and herbs in raised plots. Not only are UIW students enriched by gardening on our own campus, they have gone out and helped develop community gardens at Ella Austin Community Center, Carroll Early Childhood Center and have assisted with an expansion at Guadalupe Community Center. In doing this the students have developed friendships, gotten to know other parts of the city, and become more engaged citizens.
Not only can we be physically nourished by the vegetables, but we can be spiritually transformed.
Pope Francis wrote, “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.
Saint Bonaventure teaches us that ‘contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves’”. (223).
An article from the San Antonio Archdiocesan Task Force on the implementation of Pope Francis’ message on climate change and caring for our common home.(Reprinted with permission from Today’s Catholic newspaper, March 3, 2017, p. 28)