In this seasonal reflection, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, based at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., shares his thoughts on the significance of Earth Day coinciding with Good Friday on April 22.
A month ago, 10 members of St. Camillus Parish — seven of them young Latinos — entered the room of Maryland Senator Jamie Raskin. They were there to advocate for the legislative bill that would pave the way for construction of offshore wind farms in the state. The St. Camillus parishioners spoke about the urgent need to deal with global climate change and invest in sustainable sources of energy. “Senator, developing wind energy and other environmental justice issues are important to our faith community. They are present in Sunday sermons and in our prayers.”
The senator responded that he was fully supporting the offshore wind farm bill. Then, he added: “You know, you are the first faith-based group that has ever come to meet with me to speak on any environmental justice issue.”
Significance of Confluence
We are just a few days away from the celebration of Good Friday, which this year coincides with Earth Day. Many Christians may not see any special significance in this confluence. However, the followers of St. Francis — the patron saint of ecology — may come to see it as something meaningful and providential. It offers a unique opportunity to hold up and elucidate the truth of our faith according to which creation and salvation are intimately interconnected.The ancient Latin maxim “lex orandi, lex credendi” reminds us that the way we worship informs our worldview and our habits of behavior.
So many friars are in a position to affect liturgical expressions in their local faith community through their preaching or the kind of prayers of the faithful that they prepare. Can we do it in such a way that our celebration of Triduum would deepen people’s commitment to the well-being of the earth, its people and diverse creatures and ecosystems? Can we do it, not from a secular perspective but on the basis of our deep faith in Christ who shed his blood on the cross to reconcile heaven and earth and restore communion between God, humanity and the rest of God’s creatures?
The confluence of Good Friday and Earth Day may, in fact, be providential, bidding us to plunge into the darkness of Good Friday with its grim, reality-based assessment of the state of our planet in peril. How willing we are to follow Christ on his contemporary Way of the Cross in its ecological dimension? Given the warnings of so many respected scientists that the life-support system of our planet — and, therefore, our civilization — is on the brink of collapse, we must not relegate responsibility for dealing with spiritual and moral dimension of this crisis to scientists and environmental activists, but do what is ours to do. There can be no Easter without Good Friday.
Tension of Creation, Salvation and Redemption
This year, the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday along New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring will feature contemporary reflections. The 10th station — Jesus is Nailed to the Cross — will have explicit, ecological overtones. A large image painted by the Latino Franciscan youth group will present an artistic interpretation of Good Friday and Easter.
The painted image holds in tension the Christian themes of creation, salvation and redemption; what has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ and what is still ours to do. The polluted air, poisoned rivers and oceans, earth stripped of its tropical forests, countless species becoming extinct and human beings living and dying amidst violence of abject poverty — that’s Good Friday. But there is a promise of Easter awaiting us and the rest of creation. How can we lay hold of that promise and say Amen to that gift of new life?
Let me offer a few suggestions. First, here at St. Camillus Parish, more than 40 parishioners participated in the Lent 4.5 Christian Simplicity Lenten program. Most of the participants rave about it and they are eager to work together to make a difference. Second, the Latino community — especially the young people — have been very receptive to the call to care for God’s creation. After Easter, they are preparing to spread the message of care for God’s creation through a local radio station. Third, this past weekend about 10,000 college and high school students from all over the country came to Washington, D.C., for the largest youth environmental grassroots organizing event called Power Shift 2011.
More than 100 varied workshops, special community organizing trainings and panel discussions were offered empowering and equipping the young people to spearhead environmental justice initiatives in their schools and local communities. On Monday, thousands of them met with their members of Congress, challenged the subversive role of corporate money and influence on our democracy, and advocated for the common good and sustainable future. Being there with those young people and learning from them was for me a striking glimmer of Easter hope.
May this year’s celebration of Good Friday and Earth Day help us to move closer toward the heart of God and the heart of the world. May it empower us, our parishioners and our students to be, not on the sidelines, but on the forefront of the struggle that may well decide future of our civilization.
Peace and all good.
— Fr. Jacek, guardian of St. Camillus Friary in Silver Spring, is chair of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate.
Editor’s note: Friars with suggestions for seasonal reflections are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office to contribute ideas and text.