I have spoken before about the relationships between the season of Lent, that precedes Easter, and the environment: last year Pope Benedict XVI spoke of conversion, related to the ecological conversion. This year the reference to the environment is somewhat more explicit. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of lent, and in yesterday’s catechesis the Pope spoke about the significance of this season. The 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert have a great symbolism throughout the old testament, especially in relation to the 40 years of sojourn in the desert for the people of Israel. The “desert” is a key reality and metaphor for what every christian should live in the footsteps of Jesus, and it means both “a time of special closeness to God — the time of first love — as well as a time of temptation –“:
“The 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the desert presents ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand, it is the season of first love with God, and between God and His people, when He speaks to their hearts, pointing out to them the path to follow. God, as it were, had taken up His abode with Israel; He went before them in a cloud and a column of fire; each day, He provided for their nourishment by making manna descend from the heavens and by making water gush forth from the rock. Therefore, the years Israel passed in the desert can be seen as the time of their being especially chosen by God and of their clinging to Him: the time of first love.
On the other hand, the Bible also portrays another image of Israel’s wandering in the desert: It is also the time of the greatest temptation and peril, when Israel murmurs against her God and wishes to return to paganism and to build her own idols, out of the need she feels to worship a God who is closer and more tangible. It is also the time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.”
But the desert isn’t the only environmental connection to Lent. In his message for Lent , the Pope spoke of the source of evils in the world, of which the environmental crisis is one of them. Quoting Pope Paul VI he said: “Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations” (Populorum Progressio, 66). Here the key is identifying the true source of evils, even of environmental ones, which lies in this weakening of brotherliness, selfishness and egoism. The source of the worlds problems is in the imbalances of the heart of man: “The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man”. This key insight of Guadium et spes 10 is a sort of preamble for reconciliation via a diagnosis of reality, and for understanding the environmental crisis. If the source of the rupture of man with creation is sin borne in the heart of man, then the solution must be solved in the heart of man: when man meets and reconciles with his Creator in Christ. Lent, Pope Benedict XVI suggests, is prime time to grow in charity in 3 specific areas, according to Hebrews 10, 24: “
Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.
- Concern for others,
- Personal holiness
Part II will develop a second aspect between Lent and Nature: How a reconciled person understands power and authority, the command of God which allegedly has caused Christians to destroy the environment.