I grew up on the streets of New York. We literally played in the streets, marking the pavement with chalk to delineate the games we were playing. No such thing as being driven to some field to play. However, there was also some empty space near my home. The railroad went through and there was undeveloped land on each side. We called this area, unfenced and free, as “the lots.” Let’s go down to the lots and play. It was an area of little hills and hiding places. The lots were a fun place. I would come home dirty, scraped by rocks, and kissed by God.

Kissed by the sun you may recognize. Kissed by a wave of the ocean might be familiar to you too. But kissed by God in the dirt of the earth is just as real. Yes, God was in the dirt and the rocks though I could not have told you that then. Pope Francis, in his wonderful encyclical, Laudato Si, and in many of his talks, speaks of mother earth as being the sacrament of God. Every clod of earth, every animal, every rock, every star, every speck of dark matter is bursting with the life of God, each a distinct ray of God’s continuing creation. Scientists describe the continuing creation of the cosmos as evolution which opens our understanding of our world. Science tells us how big our universe really is. We have not comprehended that our God must be as big or even bigger. The Pope uses religious language to describe the same reality when he speaks of the Holy Spirit pulsating the love energy that creates and sustains every moment of creation. We human beings are not apart from this fabric either. Each time we encounter any part of creation, we are touched, kissed by God; we discover more about who we are and who God is. Centuries ago, Saint Thomas Aquinas said that if you do not understand creation, you cannot understand God. With our over-emphasis on sin, we have failed to know, love and learn from the created world.

Another teaching of Thomas Aquinas penned in the thirteenth century is that God has written two books, the book of creation, and the book of scripture. They really are not two books but one revelation. You cannot read the scriptures, especially the life of Christ, and fail to see the importance of the created world, of the flesh, of all material beings. In today’s reading from the prophet Ezekiel, we hear the prophet attempting to explain how God interacts with us by describing trees, sprigs, a high cedar on a mountain height, birds and branches, winged creatures of every kind. Images of the world open to us the world of our Creator.

The gospel describes Jesus teaching us about his new vision of human life which he calls the kingdom of God. Seed is sown and then sprouts and grows; the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then full grain in the ear. Or the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that springs up to be a large plant that puts forth large branches. Few of us have been brought up on farms but we can picture these images. Jesus was not a farmer either but he was in right relationship with all of creation. For Jesus the world was sacred. “Consider the lilies of the fields.” “Look at the birds of the air.” “Lift up your eyes and see the fields."

In a wonderful passage from the Book of Job, the author writes:

Ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being. (Job., 12: 7-10)

It is good to behold the beauty of the created world and see the revelation of the glory of God. But it is not enough to behold, to sit and gaze. Accepting the new story of the universe with teachings of evolution, of deep time, and moving to a theology of creation that surpasses our old stories of sin and reparation, we know there are very practical consequences. Our teachings on Creation and Incarnation should move us to face the possible catastrophe that can soon touch our world. Our faith should move us to make the changes in our lifestyle, our behavior, our attention to our world.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical, encourages us to have a wide vision and to act upon it. We read these words of his:

As part of the universe, called into being by our God, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect. God has joined us so closely to the world around us so that we can feel the desertification of soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement… Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love of our fellow human beings and unwavering commitment to solving the problems of society… We have only one heart (LS 89,91,92)

Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL