Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 35:4-7a Ps. 146:6-10 James 2:1-5 Mark 7:31-37
In the reflection for the First Sunday in the Season of Creation, I suggested a process for deepening our ecological spirituality using the approach characteristic of the Dominican family. It begins with simple contemplation of something in creation, “a long, loving look” at something that attracts us – a leaf, a tree, a cat or dog, a squirrel or deer. The second step is to give more time to study one of these that intrigues us. Sharing our discoveries in community and “preaching” to a wider world follow.
The central graces nourished and developed through this type of process are appreciation, gratitude, and a growing love of creation that will naturally lead to caring for it. This is the fertile seedbed for the ecological conversion so desperately needed in our times as highlighted by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si’.
The readings for this Sunday’s liturgy call us to stretch a bit further and focus our contemplation, study, community discernment and preaching on parts of creation that are less likely to attract us spontaneously.
The passage from the letter of James demands that the community give equal attention, study and care to those who are poor. The Isaiah passage refers to the deserts in nature as well as the suffering of the blind, the deaf, the mute and the crippled. And the gospel portrays Jesus working hard to restore the hearing and speech of a deaf mute brought to him.
By extension during this Season of Creation, these readings invite us to expand our contemplative consciousness to suffering nature. It is all around us. Consider the destructive effects of climate change: ever more severe storms and hurricanes, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons, melting snow and ice fields, rising sea levels, low-lying small island nations are slowly being inundated and coastal areas are being eroded. The list can go on and on.
Just a few years ago, a Catholic delegation to the UN climate negotiations included a sister who was head of Caritas Kenya. She told of a people in Kenya that had been feeding themselves for generations. Then one year they planted their crops and the rains didn’t come at their usual time. The crops sprouted and withered. Then the rains came, heavier than usual, and the floods swept even what little they had away. Caritas Kenya became their only source of food and survival and was itself soon without resources. Climate refugees are emerging by the millions in situations like this around the planet.
And then there are the human contributions to the ecological threats: those who deny the existence of climate change and ecological devastation, those whose over-consuming lifestyles, greed, corruption, and lack of political will threaten to push Earth past dangerous tipping points, setting loose devastating dynamics beyond our power to reverse or control.
And indeed, the poor almost always show the destructive effects of climate change first. Often they have been forced to live and farm on fragile marginal lands, lands that cannot sustain them as the weather changes.
None of these realities are easy to address effectively. Taken together they can be overwhelming and discourage us. The passage from Isaiah can serve as a reminder to us as it was to the people for whom it was written that God is at work in it all. The gospel passage Jesus engaged in that work as well, opening our ears to hear and our tongues to speak the vision. God is faithful and is working to bring about a new and life-giving creation.
Our role is to discover our part in that work and respond to the invitation we discern coming to us. That requires us to sit holding all that we contemplate in prayer, seeking to understand the dynamics at work, asking for insight into the creative processes that might contribute to an evolving new and more life-restoring stage of integration.
So in the week ahead, let’s ask to deepen our spirituality of Creation by contemplating the pain and suffering of the larger planetary reality we are part of and fully immersed in, seeing its suffering and diminishment, listening, holding it in loving prayer/presence, asking for creativity and discernment to guide our next steps in the evolution of the New Creation.
James E. Hug, S.J.