Yesterday, Pope Francis called all Catholics and people of good will for a historic peace Vigil. The event was a huge success, with over 1000, 000 people attending in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, and hundreds of thousands more around the world, making news among the secular and Catholic media alike.
Relevant to the environment, however, is what he said during the Vigil, remembering Pope Benedict XVI’s landmark environmental speech in January 2010 “IF YOU WANT TO CULTIVATE PEACE, PROTECT CREATION”. In fact, both of the most important speeches from Pope’s have been delivered in the context of the World Day of Peace delivered on January first, read here and here. This is how Pope Francis began the Vigil for Peace yesterday,
“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: “It is good”. This, dear brothers and sisters, allows us to enter into God’s heart and, precisely from within him, to receive his message.
We can ask ourselves: what does this message mean? What does it say to me, to you, to all of us?
1. It says to us simply that this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the “house of harmony and peace”, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel “at home”, because it is “good”. All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation. God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other. This evening, in reflection, fasting and prayer, each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and betweennations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?
2. But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”. This occurs when man, the summit of creation, stops contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraws into his own selfishness.
When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: man enters into conflict with himself, he realizes that he is naked and he hides himself because he is afraid (cf. Gen 3: 10), he is afraid of God’s glance; he accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”? No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear ….
It is exactly in this chaos that God asks man’s conscience: “Where is Abel your brother?” and Cain responds: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper!..
The structure of Creation, its goodness emphasized here, speaks of God’s will. The focus on harmony and goodness, and beauty is an excellent exegesis of the genesis account which uses the Greek word ‘kalos’ that has all of these meanings. This speech is also a wonderful explanation of the theology of reconciliation, and how breaking harmony with creation leads to other profound ruptures in the world and within mankind.
Finally, in another recent speech to the youth the Pope spoke of the inner structure of man, especially the youth, speaking of the 3 transcendentals: beauty, goodness and truth. He encouraged the youth to be faithful to those longings.
Firstly because inside you, you have three desires: the desire for beauty. You like beauty and when you make music, produce theatre, and paint — beautiful things — you are looking for beauty, you are searching for beauty. Now secondly: you are prophets of goodness. You like goodness and being good. And this goodness is contagious, it helps everyone else. And now third: you thirst for the truth. Seek the truth. “But, Father, I possess the truth!”. You are wrong because you cannot possess truth, we cannot carry it, we must encounter it. It is an encounter with the truth that is God, that we must search for. These three desires that you have in your heart, you must carry forward to the future and make the future beautiful with goodness and truth. Have you understood? This is a challenge; it is your challenge. But if you are lazy, if you are sad — a sad young person is not nice — if you are sad… well, this beauty will not be beauty, this goodness will not be goodness and this truth will be something else…. Think about this carefully: putting your stakes on the great ideals, the ideal of making a world of goodness, beauty and truth. You can do this, you have the power to do it. If you do not do it, it is because of laziness. I wanted to tell you this, this is what I wanted say to you.