As the frequency and strength of natural disasters seem to be increasing, a friar writes about how people of faith deal with death and destruction, describing the need to address climate change as people of faith and citizens of our planet. Over the coming days, people around the world, people will be commemorating the patron saint of the environment, Francis of Assisi.
Right from my earliest days in the Order, I have enjoyed reflecting on the beautiful Canticle of creation composed by St. Francis near the end of his life. This wonderful work celebrates the beauty of creation but, even more importantly, it points our relationship to all of God’s creation. We are creatures, God is the Creator, and as creatures, we are connected as brothers and sisters to all other creatures and to all of the forces of nature.
What happens, however, when sister water bursts forth into floods and brother wind blows at 150 miles per hour?
These questions have come to my mind over the past few weeks as hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and severe droughts have affected different parts of our country as well as others. How do we, as people of faith, deal with the death and destruction that have come from these terrible tragedies?
I have been appalled by the ignorance of some who see these events as expressions of divine wrath due to the sins of humanity. I am sure that the loving God that I believe in does not kill thousands and upend the lives of thousands more, most of whom are innocent of the sins that these self-righteous fundamentalists are concerned about. I do, however, believe that there is a faith perspective in the face of these terrible manifestations of the power of nature. There are several dimensions of this perspective on which I will comment here.
- The cycle of life and death that we Christians believe finds its highest manifestation in the Paschal Mystery is reflected in all of creation, throughout the entire vast universe in which we live. Everything has a beginning and an end, a life and a death and, in the end, new life always comes forth. In nature, we see that areas destroyed by fire, wind, and water naturally heal over time. This should give us hope that our human efforts at rebuilding can lead us to build something new and better than what was destroyed.
- Speaking of human effort, it is encouraging to see the way that people have come together to help the victims of these awful tragedies. In the face of crisis, we seem to be able to go beyond the barriers that divide us over race, religion, politics and any number of other things to assist those who are suffering. Would that we could carry this over into more tranquil times. By the way, I am not naïve. I know that when these events happen, there are looters and scammers around, but I believe that the manifestation of compassion far outweighs the negatives.
- In watching the news showing hurricane and earthquake victims, I have observed that so many of them, stripped of so many things, come to a realization about what is really important. I hear over and over again statements such as, “We lost our home and everything in it, but we will cling to each other and start over again.”
- The subject of climate change and its effect on the weather has come up. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, based on the above-mentioned canticle, reminds us of our stewardship over creation. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc. have been part of the life of this planet from the beginning of time. That having been said , we do need to ask whether the fact that these storms recently have been often larger and more frequent are due to the way that we humans treat our mother, the earth, our sister the water, our brother the wind and air. There is no simplistic answer to this question and I believe we should remove our reflection from politics, that offer us two extremes — one of simply denying that there is climate change, the other of broadly blaming it for everything. We — as people of faith and citizens of our planet — need careful scientific study and prayerful reflection to come up with a plan to address this situation.
- My final point has to do with war and with violence in general. With all of the sword brandishing, with all of the anger and hatred being spewed forth over race and religion, can these tragic events teach us that violence and hatred among us is something that we just cannot afford?
– Fr. John, a resident of in St. Petersburg, Fla., is a member of the HNP Ministry of the Word. He writes often for his blog The Wandering Friar. The previous reflection in HNP Today, titled “Finding God,” was written by Kevin Mackin, OFM.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, holy day or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional reflections by friars can be found on the Spiritual Resources page of the HNP website.
- “Franciscans Support COP21’s Efforts to Address Climate Change” – Dec. 23, 2015, HNP Today
- “’Laudato Si’ Inspires Francis Feast Celebrations”– Oct. 30, 2015, HNP Today
- “Order Announces ‘Franciscans for Ecology’ Website” – April 2, 2014, HNP Today
- “John Anglin Marks 50 Years as a Friar” – Feb. 19, 2014, HNP Today