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Bishop Strickland . . . Belief In God As the Creator Of All And Creation As A Gift

November 25, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By MOST REV. JOSEPH STRICKLAND

In the first verse of the first Book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Genesis (a word which means beginning) we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1).
Most religious traditions and cultures have a creation account. However, only the Jewish and Christian faiths teach a doctrine often referred to as creation ex nihilo, a Latin phrase meaning “out of nothing.” In Part One of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read of the importance of embracing what the Church refers to as a “Catechesis on Creation.”
Following on the model of the earliest catechesis in Church history, the Catholic Catechism sets forth, and expounds upon, the ancient Deposit of Faith as set forth in the Creeds of the early Church. We read: “‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ Holy Scripture begins with these solemn words. The profession of faith takes them up when it confesses that God the Father almighty is ‘Creator of heaven and earth’ (Apostles’ Creed), ‘of all that is, seen and unseen’ (Nicene Creed). We shall speak first of the Creator, then of creation and finally of the fall into sin from which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to raise us up again” (CCC n. 279).

God Is The Creator Of All

This Jewish and Christian doctrine that God is the Creator, who spoke the Word and things came to be, is being assaulted these days by errant ideologies and increasingly confused theological novelties which all too often masquerade as efforts at inculturation. God as the Creator is the foundation of our Faith. This Truth has produced some of the most beautiful reflections in both the Jewish and the Christian Tradition.
In the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews we read: “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (Heb. 11:3). As the Genesis account continues, God speaks the Word and it all comes to be. The crown of His Creation was the creation of man and woman, created in His Image and called into communion with Him. It was to our first parents that creation itself was entrusted. And, that stewardship has been passed on to each one of us.
How we steward the gift of creation has been the topic of much discussion and reflection lately. Much of it has raised legitimate questions concerning our treatment of — and relationship to creation — in what is often referred to as environmentalism. On May 24, 2015, the Solemnity of Pentecost, Pope Francis issued an Encyclical Letter entitled Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home). In an insightful way, he summarized the teachings of his Predecessors in the Chair of Peter on our call to be good stewards of the gift of creation and set forth a summary of a responsible approach to environmentalism.
Yet, since the issuance of that letter, some of what is emerging in this arena of reasserting a rightful view of our relationship with the Creator and His creation, even in Church circles, is not in accord with the teaching of the Scripture and the Sacred Tradition. In effect, it is becoming more pagan in its approach than it is Christian. There is a difference between the Creator and creation. There is a difference between the crown of His creation, man and woman created in His Image and likeness, and the earth which was fashioned for and entrusted to them as stewards. This distinction is critical. If we lose it, we lose what is distinctly Catholic and Christian.
This was a concern raised often by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. For example, on January 1, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI released a Message for the World Day of Peace entitled “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” Some reports upon the release of the letter intimated that the Pope had somehow “joined” the environmental movement. In fact, he was simply teaching what the Church has always taught; a proper stewardship of the environment is grounded in our obligations to — and solidarity with — one another, as given. This earth which Pope Francis called our “common home.”
But first, we have been created by God the Creator and given to one another as gifts. Creation has been given to us, together, as a human community, and as itself a gift, with responsibilities which we must now share. Here are some salient words from Pope Benedict XVI:
“There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. If the Church’s magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things.”
The Pope Emeritus continued, “In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the ‘dignity’ of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man’s salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms.”
In that message the Pope Emeritus repeated many of the themes which he developed in his Encyclical Letter entitled Charity in Truth. Those themes are a part of Catholic Social Teaching, a division of Catholic Moral Theology. They are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have their roots in the Bible. They are not new at all. Nor are they confused in their distinctions between creature and creation.
The Pope Emeritus called for “integral human development” which recognizes the centrality of the human person and the primacy of our relationships with one another in family and society. He underscored the truth that creation is a gift, given to human persons by a God of love who entrusts us with responsibility for one another — and therefore for the goods which promote our human flourishing.
We do all have a responsibility for one another. We truly are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. That is the guiding principle of solidarity, fundamental teaching of the Sacred Scripture and the Tradition. And, it has serious implications on how we treat creation. We need to live together as good stewards of creation, recognizing the need for putting first what the Church calls a “human ecology.” Pope Benedict explained:
“The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water, and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction. The degradation of nature is closely linked to the cultural models shaping human coexistence: consequently, “when ‘human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict continued, “Young people cannot be asked to respect the environment if they are not helped, within families and society as a whole, to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others.
“Hence I readily encourage efforts to promote a greater sense of ecological responsibility which, as I indicated in my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, would safeguard an authentic ‘human ecology’ and thus forcefully reaffirm the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one is trained in love of neighbor and respect for nature. There is a need to safeguard the human patrimony of society. This patrimony of values originates in and is part of the natural moral law, which is the foundation of respect for the human person . . . and creation.”
Pope Benedict, in this letter and in his continual teaching, offered a Catholic Environmental vision which is pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, and pro-peace, as properly understood. This clarity of thought is what is needed today. We are to receive one another as gifts. We must never use human persons as objects. We should receive creation as a gift, to be shared with one another, and not as an object of use. He concluded that message for the World Day of Peace with these words:
“The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the ‘grammar’ which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. In the same way, the opposite position, which would absolutize technology and human power, results in a grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself.
“If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation. In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church’s Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make. They contemplate the cosmos and its marvels in light of the creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of Christ, who by his death and resurrection has reconciled with God ‘all things, whether on earth or in heaven’ (Col. 1:20). Christ, crucified and risen, has bestowed his Spirit of holiness upon mankind, to guide the course of history in anticipation of that day when, with the glorious return of the Savior, there will be ‘new heavens and a new earth’ (2 Peter 3:13), in which justice and peace will dwell forever.
“Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all. May this be clear to world leaders and to those at every level who are concerned for the future of humanity: the protection of creation and peacemaking are profoundly linked! For this reason, I invite all believers to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all-powerful Creator and the Father of mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”
We often use the word “green” in popular — and even scholarly — discussion concerning our relationship to the environment and the creation. The Catholic Church has been “green” for a lot longer than any modern environmental movement. To be concerned for the proper view of, and care of, the created order simply comes along with being fully human.
What must be avoided is a failure to distinguish between our relationship to the created order, and our relationship with one another. In an age which seems to be re-embracing a new form of pantheism, and sliding into neo-paganism, faithful Catholic Christians should be careful to present a Catholic vision for a relational environmentalism; one of stewardship with the earth which God has made and entrusted to us to care for and share.
Some in the current “green” movement, even within the Church, have lost their way. For example, just think about the inherent contradiction of worrying about polluting the atmosphere with toxic chemicals and at the same time supporting making toxic chemicals available to be ingested by mothers in order to kill the children in their womb — often for no other reason than they simply do not want these children.
We need to articulate a new way of being “green,” an authentically Catholic way. One which makes a human ecology the lens through which we approach our stewardship of the earth, which, as Pope Francis rightly asserted, is our common home. One of the better reports on the Pope Emeritus’ Message for the World Day of Peace came from Giuliano Ferrara, the director of the Italian daily Il Foglio, who wrote:
“The Pope denounces the ecological crisis but does not belong to the church of Al Gore. Benedict XVI in no way denies human abuse of nature. He notes that he does not share the ‘the environmentalist religion or environmentalism as a religion.’ The Pope has another faith, based on the transcendence of a God that creates man in his image and likeness to entrust nature to him. . . . He has, evidently, no need for replacement beliefs, of ideologies feigned as science.”
We need to embrace a lifestyle which understands our place with one another — and our place together in the world which God created for all of us to care for, steward, and share. We need a human ecology, a relational environmentalism, a truly Catholic way of being green. And, we need to be clear, while doing all of this, that we Guard the Deposit of Faith.

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