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Creation and the Rupture of Sin

This Holy Week, we reflect on Jesus’ suffering and death, offered as a perfect sacrifice to save us from our sins. But what is the nature of sin? As Pope Francis explains in Laudato Si’, the creation stories in the book of Genesis show us that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. . . . [T]hese three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin.” (Laudato Si’ 66)

We sin when we willingly turn our backs on God, on others, or on God’s creation. The incarnation and crucifixion are the awesome efforts of a God who loves us beyond our imagining and who reaches out to us in hopes that we will allow God to repair these broken relationships. Through this sacrifice, God invites us to return to God. To do so, however, we must make the effort in our lives to work with God’s grace to repair all three of these relationships.  

 If we are to turn away from sin and back to God, we cannot let our relationship with God’s creation remain broken. The Catechism tells us that each part of God’s creation “reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness” (340). Therefore, our relationship with the earth and its creatures is bound up in our relationship with God. This interconnection is one that God ordained when making the world:    

God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other. (Catechism of the Catholic Church,140)        

 To misuse and disrespect creation is to damage our relationship with God. We must “avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment.” (Catechism, 339)  

The widespread environmental destruction evident in the world today stands as testament to our fractured relationship with God’s creation. We have allowed this relationship to suffer damage both within ourselves, by allowing our own greed or lack of concern to translate into daily actions, and outwardly, by perpetuating systems that exploit the Earth and its creatures. The inward and outward manifestations of this broken relationship are connected. The Catechism tells us that our individual sins “give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins.” (1869) By wasting resources and continuing to lead unsustainable lifestyles, we allow industries that systematically destroy the earth to flourish.                     

In addition to the negative effects these sins have on our relationship with God and the earth, we must recognize the damage they cause to our relationships with our neighbor. The sin of environmental destruction literally contaminates entire communities across our country, particularly those that are already economically disadvantaged. For example, take the following account of what Pennsylvania farmer witnessed after a fracking site sprang up near his farm:

In his community, water has turned black and become flammable, testing for high levels of contaminants. Livestock have been born sick, blind, and deformed, or have been stillborn, and fish have disappeared or mutated. Truck drivers who transport waste material save experienced rashes, dizziness, migraines, and swelling of the face and limbs. Community members regularly report that their local environmental protection agencies side with the gas companies and do little to protect them. (People’s Pastoral, 20)

When we are not mindful of our consumption of resources, we support systems that directly contribute to the sufferings of our fellow human beings. And when we remain silent and do not come to the aid of those who are suffering because of this destruction, we deepen the rift between ourselves and Jesus, who is present in the cry of the poor.

However, the story of Jesus’s Passion does not end on a note of despair. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus constantly offers us the opportunity to mend our broken relationships with creation, with others, and with God. During the Triduum, we pray for God to send the Holy Spirit to reconcile us, to heal our brokenness, and to renew creation.

Recreate the world
Creator God,
Because of your abundant love
you chose to bring light and order into the formless void,
to create a world of unsurpassed beauty
and you saw that it was good.
We ask that you continue to recreate the world
with that same attentive love,
to bring light into today's ever increasing chaos and darkness
where we have failed to be stewards and carers of creation.
Replenish our hearts
so that we too can renew the face of the earth. Amen

(prayer by Kiernan O'Brien from CAFOD's Prayer Resources webpage)

For additional prayer resources for an “ecological conversion” of our hearts to heal the relationships ruptured by sin, see the Franciscan Action Network’s Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the path of ecological conversion and Pope Francis’s A Prayer for Our Earth, found on our website.

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