The Franciscan Vision and the Oil Spill: Are We Listening?

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM Features

The following has been excerpted from a reflection that Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, co-chair of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate, wrote for the Franciscan Action Network in response to the oil spill that began in April. He discusses the contrasts between the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico and the vision of creation that St. Francis advocated. The full text can be found on the Justice and Peace page of the HNP website. It is one of many elements added recently to the section titled “JPIC in Action.” 

As we look at the images of the devastation from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, could Christ be calling each one of us by name, and urging us to rebuild God’s house that is being destroyed?

Are we listening to that voice speaking to us through the scripture, through the signs of the times, or the images of former beauty and harmony now smeared by death and destruction?

As we agonize over the stories from the Gulf of Mexico and the images of crude oil gushing out of the undersea well, or a white bird soaked in thick filthy substance, perhaps we may begin to wonder what is happening to our world. Is it falling into ruin?

The contemporary world is built, in part, on a shaky foundation, a belief that we are separated from the rest of God’s creation.

The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is just one potent symptom of a much larger problem that besets us — rapid deforestation and desertification, the loss of bio-diversity, ocean acidification, and, of course, global climate change. This world is, indeed, crumbling down. In and of itself, technology will not save us. The military might of our nation will not save us. Big bank accounts, our gated communities — or even the relative security of a professed religious life — will not guarantee safety in the long run.

It is time that we, as Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people, listen more attentively to the voice of Christ speaking to us through the signs of the times, addressing us from the cross of the polluted coast of Louisiana. Are we listening?

For those of us Franciscans who have professed the public vow of obedience — a word derived from a Latin verb for listening — this directly touches on the question of how faithfully we are in living out our public commitments. Are we obedient? Are we listening to God and all of our kin in the community of life?

Rebuild My House
What is our response to Christ’s call: “Rebuild my house; as you see, it is being destroyed?” How do we go about witnessing to the power of the Gospel in the ecological age of oil spills and other environmental woes? First of all, we need to help one another realize the high value, urgency and the need in our world for a Franciscan view of creation. Its precious elements can be fitting stones for the task of rebuilding the world as the sacrament of God’s presence.

If we are to move beyond a popular, quaint sentimentality of Francis in the birdbath, we must sharpen our prophetic sensitivities by embracing in a new way that the earth is being pillaged and desecrated. A key element is direct contact with those who are being affected and a critical analysis of the social reality. Have courage to ask deep questions about what factors contribute to this and other environmental problems. What beliefs and values support the status quo and which challenge it? Who makes decisions? Who pays the price and who reaps a lion’s share of benefits? What do scripture, the Church’s social teachings and the Franciscan tradition have to say? What is the level of our environmental literacy?

Responding with integrity to the oil spill in the gulf requires that we squarely face and begin to transform our habits of high consumption that we have grown accustomed to take for granted. Historically, the Franciscan tradition challenges us to resist abstractions or concepts devoid of particularity and concreteness. This insight applies to our relationship with God and the rest of God’s creation. Can we, as Franciscans, authentically speak about the sacramentality of God’s creation, sing hymns such as “O Creatures of Our God and King,” bless animals on Oct. 4? Or relish in the fact that St. Francis is a patron saint of ecology while being oblivious to how our patterns of consumption might be antithetical to what we profess and publicly celebrate?

Advocate for the Environment
As Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people we are called to be co-creators of beauty, co-artists with God, whose ear is delicately attuned to the music of human heart. We are gifted with imagination and the rich Franciscan tradition that speaks to us about a sacramental world in which God’s presence would be more transparent.

We are also sent to be troubadours of hope singing a song of a new, more humane and sustainable world. Following Mary, and beholding God’s promise of life for all creation, we are to say, “Yes,” to God and to this vocation.

It is time to heal a painful and disastrous gap that all too often exists between spiritual life and political involvement. Are we ready to get Francis out of the birdbath and into the real world that needs him — the world blemished by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Will we trust the Holy Spirit and partner with a God who desires to heal, make all things new, and bring forth even greater beauty?

— Fr. Jacek ministers at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md. He invites friars and other newsletter readers to check out the resources about Franciscan care for creation that are available on the JPIC page of the Province’s website as well as the information offered on the Franciscan Action Network site.