As we approach autumn and the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, many bishops around the globe encourage priests to celebrate Green Masses to honor God’s creation of earth, rejoice in nature, promote ecology, and enhance environment. Expanding beyond Blue Masses (that honor first-responders and those that protect and serve), Red Masses (that pay tribute to the legal profession), and White Masses (that focus upon the medical fields), Green Masses honor our commitment to God’s cathedral of creation in nature. Filled with images of Father-God and Mother-Earth, it is easy to contemplate divine manifestations in our surroundings. When we see majestic mountains, vast beaches, flowery meadows, fertile rolling hills, rapid waterfalls, lofty forests, or placid lakes, we also see the hand of God at work in nature. For some of us, a long loving look at the great out-doors strengthens our belief in God.
Theism is a Greek term that refers to believing in God. Atheism means not believing in God. Polytheism, to which most ancient Greeks—and most religions—adhered, is belief in many gods. Monotheism is belief in one God, the belief of Christians as attested in the first sentence of our Profession of Faith: “I believe in one God...” Panentheism is belief that God is in all creation—not to be confused with pantheism which holds that all creation is God. While pantheism is heretical to Christians, many of our great saints were panentheists, i.e., they saw that God is in all. These variations of belief in God (Theos) might be helpful to some who want to articulate what they believe, recognizing The Creator’s hand in what is created, including us, creatures, made in His image and likeness.
A third century saint, Cyprian, stated: “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother.” It is another beautiful image to think that God and The Church are so close that we should not think of them separately. Of course, Cyprian lived when it was illegal and ill advised, to be a Christian, when the church was primarily a group of people that followed Christ rather than an institution. It was a time before we built structures of worship called churches. Nevertheless, the paternal nature of God is a lovely image for us to hold and, like mother-earth, mother-church wants to reflect God’s nature and goodness.
Soon after Pope Francis was elected to head the universal Catholic Church, he published an encyclical, Laudato Si, which translates as “Praise Be to You” and calls us to give greater attention to the earth over which God has granted us dominion. Though you may not want to read the entire document, you might find it worthwhile to read excerpts and summaries provided on-line. Similarly, The Bible is filled with references to the glory of God found in nature. Many theologians have extrapolated over those biblical passages. One of them, French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote Hymn of the Universe, a magnificent reflection on The Church, Father-God, and Mother-Earth. In his first chapter, entitled The Mass on the World, he finds himself on an Asian steppe, amidst a mountainous backdrop. He has no bread, no wine, no altar, only the sacrament of pure majesty on the horizon and the sacrifice of the labor and suffering of the world. There, he raises his hands to the expanding cosmos, the radiant Word of Jesus, and blazing power of the Holy Spirit.
I’ll conclude with the words of another Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who offers other insights on creation in his famous poem, God’s Grandeur: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out like shining from shook foil; it gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of crushed oil. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; and all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things; and though the last lights off the black west went: Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs—because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
Let us praise the God of all creation! Laudato Si!