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Know the Creator through Creation

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Assisi, Italy. I remember standing on a hillside, watching swallows wheeling over the rolling Umbrian hills and breathing in the pristine air while reflecting on the almost surreal beauty of my surroundings. It would be easy, I thought, to constantly feel the presence of God in a place like this. I envied St. Francis and St. Claire for being able to perform their ministries somewhere so peaceful and untouched, before faux-rustic shops and restaurants had sprung up all over the hillside to attract tourists. If I had lived in such a place, surely I could have been a saint, too.               

But then I was struck by how the hilly countryside bore a striking similarity to my hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia. How many opportunities had I missed while growing up to know God more intimately by appreciating the natural landscape in my own backyard? All of us are called to be part of the Communion of Saints, which means that we are called to know God so we can love and serve Him. And God’s grandeur and love for us are evident not just in Assisi, but throughout creation everywhere else on Earth. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us that “the entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” Our spiritual life cannot be complete if we fail to include both of what Saint Thomas Aquinas called the "two sacred texts:" Holy Scripture and God’s creation. We must make a special effort to notice and be thankful for the gift of creation wherever we are, whether we see it in magnificent rolling hills, a tiny flower, or even a sliver of sky between high-rise buildings. God freely gives us His creation to allow us to know Him and become closer to Him, but we must be aware enough to see it.                 

In West Virginia, as in other parts of the country, once-verdant hillsides ravaged by strip mining are a common sight. We must learn to see God in these sites of human destruction as well, just as we learn to see the face of Christ in the faces of the poor and vulnerable. The sufferings of the Earth and its creatures, as well as the sufferings of the poor, should inspire the same kind of concern and empathy in us as the sufferings of Christ crucified. Like Veronica, who was moved to wipe the face of Jesus with her veil, we must also be moved to act to alleviate these sufferings. We must also be willing to change our lives to avoid contributing to the exploitation of our planet’s resources and the oppression of the impoverished as much as possible. Our care for creation and our care for the poor must be two sides of the same coin that proceed from our desire to know, love, and serve God.               

This Earth Day, I invite you to follow Saint Bonaventure’s injunction to “Open your eyes […], prick up your spiritual ears, open your lips and apply your heart” to the wonders of God’s creation. For as he further says, creation is a book written by God for all of us, and “whoever reads this book will find life and will draw salvation from the Lord.” To aid you and your community in this journey, download Catholic Climate Covenant's 2017 Earth Day program toolkit (which you can do below). This year's theme is "Know the Creator through Creation." We invite you to open your spirit to the interconnectedness of the wonders of our world, which draws us ever closer to the author of the universe and challenges us to care ever more deeply for the earth, our common home.      

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Carolyn Thele is the Staff Assistant for Catholic Climate Covenant       

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