God calls us to be good stewards of all creation, beginning with a human ecology
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
Getting our hands dirty can be a good thing, especially when it’s the result of working in a garden. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows how much I enjoy working in my garden on my days off.
There is something refreshing and spiritual about getting down close to the earth and in helping the soil to become fruitful. But these are not the only gardens in life to be tended and cared for.
The media was abuzz with the release of Pope Francis’ document On
Care for our Common Home, which speaks to the importance of caring for the environment. Unfortunately, the media has a way of highlighting parts outside of their context. But no matter where you might stand on the subject of global warming, the essence of the document is about stewardship of the earth that must not exclude the primacy of a human ecology.
For we are all of the earth (Genesis 2:7), and we must cultivate and care for not only the earth beneath our feet to bring forth its fruit, but also to cultivate and care for the earth of our being and that of others if we are to bring forth the many fruits of holiness. It’s about the interrelatedness of our care for the garden of the earth and the garden of our communion with God that each person’s life represents. Jesus is the new Adam and the divine
Gardener—He is the Vine and we are the branches that are to bear fruit in abundance for the good of others (John 15:1). And to be good stewards of God’s creation, we must above all be good stewards of God’s garden in each of us.
When we say “grace” before meals we give brief thanks to God for the participation of all of creation that echoes in its unique ways the very words of Jesus’ offering up of His body and His blood for us, “… given up for you.” Whether it is the fruit of the earth and the vine, or the milk and meat from a cow, the fish from the sea, the cotton for our clothing, the wood of the forest, or the minerals and fuel mined from deep below that serve our material needs, all of creation echoes those immortal words, “given up for you.” Stewardship begins with these words.
But as Pope Francis sadly notes, ours has become a “throwaway culture.” Think of the many “throwaway” materials used once and discarded today—plastic bottles and cutlery, Styrofoam cups and plates, and paper towels to name but a few items. We like the convenience because it alleviates us of the need for any responsibility for their care— they are just tossed in the garbage when they have served their brief purpose. And think of how much material that is recyclable that goes instead to the garbage heap.
When we place a greater value on something, we tend to care for it better. But in our utilitarian culture, human life today is also seen as cheap and disposable. This is particularly true of those who exist closest to the “garden tomb” (John 19:41) due to their weakness and vulnerability. These are the unborn in the womb, the poor and needy, the elderly, and even those on death row. Pope Francis reminds us that we cannot properly hear the “cry of nature” when we fail to hear the cry of those who represent “the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40).
The great garden of creation is the responsibility of every person.
But we also must be gardeners of souls—to be the heart, the face, and the hands of Jesus, the divine Gardener if the common good is truly to be served. For the common good refers not only to the fruits of the earth, which must be cultivated with care and shared, but the fruits of holiness that we must generously give to others that they, too, might grow to be fruitful as God’s special garden.