God calls us to be good stewards of all creation, and it begins with being thankful
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord. Praise and exalt Him above all forever. …”
So begins the beautiful Canticle of Daniel (3:57-88, 56) that the Church regularly prays in the Liturgy of the Hours (the prayer of the Church). This canticle (Latin for “little song”) brings all of God’s creation — the heavens, the earth, all living things of land, sea and sky, and all the people of God in heaven and on earth — into a beautiful symphony of praise for Our Creator.
While we give thanks with our voice and lives, the rest of creation does so simply with the silence of its beauty and in the fulfillment of the purpose for which God created it. And because “all things came to be through” Christ, and “what came to be through Him was life” (John 1:3,4), so, too, does all creation echo His life-giving words.
In every Mass we hear Our Redeemer in His immense love for each of us say, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you.” These are the words that give us eternal life. And all of God’s creation also echoes His words, “… given up for you,” for the nourishment and help of our earthly life. These words are the basis for an integrated stewardship, for a true ecology that respects not just parts but all of God’s creation. And it begins with being thankful, with what Pope Francis calls a “eucharistic attitude.”
Think of the wonderful practice of saying “grace” before meals when we offer thanks to God for His creation that has “given itself up” for our bodily nourishment and material needs. Whether it is the fruit of the tree, vegetables from the soil, milk and meat from the cow, fish from the sea, cotton for our clothing, wood from the forest, or minerals and fuel mined from deep below to serve our needs, all of creation echoes Christ’s offering, “… given up for you.”
The more we give thanks to God, the more we grow in our respect for His creation and our responsibility as stewards of His gifts. Our thanksgiving should express itself in consuming and using only what we need, in wasting less and coveting fewer material things. Thankfulness is what curbs our appetite and helps us to use earthly goods as stewards, not as voracious consumers.
The failure to be thankful to God is symptomatic of a “throwaway culture.” Think of the many “disposable” items of plastic, paper or Styrofoam that we briefly use each day and then discard as trash. We like the convenience of these things simply because it alleviates the need of taking any responsibility for their care.
Tragically, even the precious gift of human life is victim to this “throwaway” mentality. Abortion claims 19,000 innocent unborn children a week in our country alone — over 2,700 precious lives a day. And yet, pro-abortion advocates and legislators promote it as a necessary component of caring for our environment through a lessening of the human footprint upon the earth. But the earthly environment is intimately connected to the first environment we all dwell in and that Christ in His humanity also dwelt in — the womb.
The throwaway mentality of the culture of death extends even to the sick and elderly with efforts to legalize euthanasia. It is a mentality that views those unable to be productive members of society, due to poor health and age, as a drain upon resources that should be conserved only for the healthy to use.
An integrated stewardship must be “ministerial,” St. John Paul II reminds us, not that of absolute masters of life and death. It calls for our conversion of heart, first and foremost, if we are to be ministers of God’s kingdom and gifts.
“God planted a garden … and placed there the man whom He had formed” (Genesis 2:8). God is the first Gardener, and in giving us stewardship of His creation — “to cultivate and to care for it” (v. 15) — we, too, are called to be gardeners. And we must first of all be gardeners of the very “earth of our being” if we are to be true ministers of the greater garden about us.
While it is Christ the New Adam, “the Gardener” (John 20:15), who sows the good seed and prunes its growth for a greater fruitfulness, Satan is always trying to sow weeds throughout our garden (Matthew 13:25-30). As we should be concerned with the effect of pollutants upon our global environment, so, too, we must seek to rid the pollutants that harm our soul. Frequent confession, the Eucharist, and a healthy prayer life are the herbicides that best help to rid our garden of the weeds of sin and vice, and to help God’s seasons of sun and rain to nourish our garden with His grace.
In every Mass we hear those beautiful words, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.” Only when we learn to give thanks to God will we begin to understand how to care for His many gardens — our own, the lives of others, and the garden of the world — and to give voice of blessing to God for all of His beautiful creation.
On behalf of Cardinal Rigali and me, may your Thanksgiving be filled with many blessings.