One August, returning by car to New York after several weeks in the austere landscape of the Southwest, I was taken aback, as we got into Ohio and especially Pennsylvania, by the lush green of the farms and trees we passed along the Interstate. Voluptuous was the word that popped into my mind. Life abounds in the summertime in our Northeast: trees, flowers, birds, insects. Many of our fruits and vegetables come to us fresher, from nearby, rather than from faraway, states. We’re aware of long hours of light, although we sense that bit by bit, the days are shortening. And, like ocean waves at the beach, thunderstorms-those flashy, noisy summer visitors-remind us of the power and potential destructiveness of nature.
All of this took on new meaning one day recently when I heard, as if for the first time, the final instruction of Jesus to his followers in Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation,” or, in the New American translation: “to every creature.” Suddenly, the image of Saint Francis preaching to the birds became more serious.
What is this “gospel” that we Christians are to preach to every creature? In the most succinct terms, it is the good news that God is Love. God has loved us- the whole of creation-into being, loves us now and at every moment.
How do we preach the gospel to every creature? Here again, Francis helps us. His mandate to his followers reiterated that of Jesus: “Preach the Gospel.” It was followed by, “If necessary, use words.” In effect, he says, preach the Gospel of God’s love with your life. This seems to me to imply that the only way to preach this gospel authentically is to keep the commandment it entails: “Love one another.” But the scope of “one another” becomes as wide and high and deep as the cosmos.
As we grow in understanding and love for the whole of creation and of our oneness with it, we can expect to grow in a sense of responsibility. We gradually become aware not only of our obligations to care for our human sisters and brothers, but also of the needs of the birds and all the animals, the plants, the earth itself, land, sea and air, even the stars and the planets, in short, every creature.
Can we meet every need? No. Can we do something? Yes. Our Mother-Sister Angela, Franciscan tertiary, told us in no uncertain terms: act, do something. When we take one practical, loving step to preach the good news to the whole creation, it will be given to us to understand this good news better and to see the next step along the way. The life that abounds in summertime will continue, ever more abundantly.
In The Quest for the Living God (2008), Elizabeth Johnson maps a number of contemporary frontiers in the theology of God. While preparing these reflections, I found Chapter 9, “Creator Spirit in the Evolving World,” of particular interest.
Marie-Celine Miranda, O.S.U.
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