Contemplating the Mystery of Christmas

A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent
by Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Advent-wreath-week-2Each year, the Church invites us to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas by focusing on the birth of the One who reveals the infinite love of God, the Creator and Father.  The Sunday Scripture readings that we hear in the season of Advent invite us to look again at God’s creation and rediscover God’s love.  The Advent scriptures offer us some rich images to contemplate as we approach Christmas.  Here’s a sampling:

John the Baptist: …a man who reduced life to the essentials so he would not be distracted from hearing God’s voice and responding to it.  John’s single-hearted response attracted the attention of many who were seeking conversion and repentance, but didn’t know where to turn.  John pointed them to Jesus, the image of the invisible, all-loving God.  What can you do to minimize distractions? What do you do to make yourself available to hearing God’s voice?

Isaiah’s description of rain falling down from the heavens producing plants that sprout and bloom: This image invites us to appreciate the hidden work of God who enlivens all of creation and brings all things into being, including ourselves!  This image calls us to patient attention and grateful appreciation of all God is accomplishing in us and in others.  What are some of God’s gifts for which you are grateful?How do you affirm the gifts of others?

Mary: …in whom the word became flesh. Mary’s example can serve as a blueprint for our own lives.  She holds the mystery of God in her heart.  She trusts God.  She is present and attentive to Jesus from conception to the cross, and beyond.  Her entire life is shaped by Christ.

How do you see your life as shaped by Christ? In what way(s) are you inviting Christ into your life in a new way this year?                       

God’s very being revealed in an infant: …vulnerable, needy and dependent on others for its very existence.  This image invites us to look at our dependence on others, as well as others’ dependence on us.  It leads us to grasp the interconnectedness of everything in the created order and, ultimately, the connection of all creation to God.  We exist in a web of inter-dependence that extends throughout all of creation and into the mystery of the divine.  Who are the people who thrive on your attention?  Who are the people who inspire and enliven you?

Contemplation is a way of discovering the truth that all of creation receives its existence from God.  According to Thomas Aquinas, when we learn a humble, serene attentiveness, we shall see the goodness of the world. The world is simply the expression of divine bounty, simply an expression of love.   As Christmas draws closer, let’s look deeply at creation.  Let’s discover God’s presence in the world around us.   Can you imagine God looking at you?  Can you imagine God loving you?  Can you imagine God depending on you?  Can you see God in others?  That’s the mystery of Christmas!

“A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing, and limiting our power.”

                                                                –Pope Frances, Encyclical Letter on Ecology,
                                                                “Laudato Si” (Praised Be)

 The following are excerpts from Laudato Si, prepared by the Catholic Climate Covenant, in Washington, DC, and published on June 18, 2015. The first four segments were posted on this site on June 19; the final three will be posted on Tuesday, June 23. 

Climate Change

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes that produce or aggravate it.

climate-change_Man

If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.

Climate change is a global problem with serious implications, environmental, social, economic, political, and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.

Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources that can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.

The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.

epa00162905 Women sell coconuts in the Abobo community of Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast, on Monday, 29 March 2004. The French-speaking Ivory Coast was once one of the richest countries in Africa due to its valuable ivory exports. However, droughts in the region and economic recessions have hit, causing the country to experience hardships.  EPA/Herve Gbekide

We must maintain with clarity an awareness that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States Bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”

Individual Actions

This simple example [of cooperative action] shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land.

Group of environmentalists walking with wheelbarrow and potted plant in park

Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls. Unless citizens control political power, national, regional and municipal, it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.

recycle_childrenEducation in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.

If the laws are to bring about significant, long-lasting effects, the majority of the members of society must be adequately motivated to accept them, and personally transformed to respond.

caretakers of earth-handsThere is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions.

Along with the importance of little everyday gestures, social love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” which permeates all of society.

The Faith Perspective

We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.

This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world.

Climate 7 polar bearsClearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

Everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice, and faithfulness to others.

Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by a love which calls us together into universal communion.

hand of God 2Creation is of the order of love.

A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing, and limiting our power.

When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequalities, injustices and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this model is the ideal of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus.

most-beautiful-nature-images-world-5The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of 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.

Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

brother son sister moon care of the earth[This conversion] entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion.

We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.

Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature.

Integral Ecology

We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

environmental issue 2Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective, which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged.

If the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.

We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis that is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature.

world globe_social responseNature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live.

NOTE: The final three segments of the Encyclical will be posted here on Tuesday, June 23, 20

Celebrating Earth Day 2015

“The earth will not continue to offer harvest except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”

–Pope John Paul II

 

Nature-8

April 22 – Earth Day – It was the brainchild of Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a two-term governor and three-term senator, who wanted to raise public awareness that our planet was at risk and put the national spotlight on environmental issues.

“When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves”                                                                                    –Davis Orr 

Since the first celebration of Earth Day on April 22, 1970, we have seen the following legislation enacted: The Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Senator Nelson rejected the suggestion that the economy take precedence over environmental protection:

“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.”

simple conceptGaylord Nelson and his like-minded colleagues changed the nation’s perspective on the environment. Today we continue to push back against those who would weaken the air and water protections that were established decades ago. And we add new technologies like fracking and offshore oil drilling to the list of environmental concerns.

 

 

 

As we take time this week to think about our planet Earth, here are some observations and images that might shine a new light on our reflections.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s needs but not everyone’s
greed.”  
                                                                                 

  –Mahatma Gandhi

 

earth not dying

 

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our government to save the environment.”                                                                                              

–Ansel Adams

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“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the
last fish been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money.”
                                                                                                –Cree Indian Proverb

SEAGULL

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of the land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”                                                                                                 –Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Man is the most insane species.  He worships an invisible God and slaughters a visible Nature…without realizing that this Nature he slaughters is this invisible God he worships.”

–Hubert Reeves

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course we are all familiar with the first book, namely Scripture. But God has written a second book called creation.”

–Francis Bacon