“Love One Another as I have Loved You”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sums up his entire teaching with one commandment: “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Love is the bond of existence between God, Jesus and his followers. This Agape love is a love which moves out to give of oneself for others. So, a question I would like to explore today is, what does love of neighbour look like in an era of ecological breakdown? When Pope Francis published his encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’ – On Care for our Common Home, in 2015, he addressed it to “every single person living on this planet”, to me and to you. Laudato Si’ is a rallying call to the world, “since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (Laudato Si’ 1, 14).
I would like to share with you my experience of walking a climate pilgrimage. In 2018, I walked 1,000km on a climate pilgrimage from Italy to the UN Climate Talks in Poland (COP24) with pilgrims from many countries, carrying the message of Laudato Si’ to those we met along the way. In our group were pilgrims from the Philippines, some of whom were survivors of one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan (2013). Haiyan killed 10,000 people in just two hours and displaced millions. The strength of this storm attributed to climate change. My friend and fellow pilgrim, Joanna Sustento, lost her entire family that night, her parents, brother, sister-in-law and 3-year-old nephew washed away in the storm surge. Journeying with these pilgrims over two months really opened my eyes to the realities of the ecological crisis which our world faces today. This crisis for me is no longer something that is happening to people far away whom I do not know, this crisis involves my friends, our brothers and sisters; real people, real families, who are on the front lines of climate change. We are also more than aware that as well as a climate crisis, our world faces a devastating biodiversity crisis as the vast ecosystems of our planet are unravelling. The origins of the COVID-19 pandemic are now being attributed to the destruction of ecosystems. It is a devastating example of how humans cannot be healthy on a planet that is not healthy. The facts and statistics go on and on, they are upsetting and can leave us feeling helpless.
Jesus preached Agape love, this is a radical love which urges us to act for those who are oppressed in any way, and that includes people suffering the disastrous effects of this ecological crisis, especially the generations to come. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis pleads with us to embrace an “ecological conversion,” whereby the effects of our encounter with Jesus Christ becomes evident in our relationship with the world around us. He says, “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (LS, 217).
Laudato Si’ invites us to begin this eco-conversion, very simply, by re-connecting with the natural world. The roots of this crisis are deeply spiritual because we have forgotten who we are and where we come from. So, part of this call to love one another involves re-kindling a child-like sense of awe and wonder where our relationship with creation is concerned. Laudato Si’ invites us to take example from the much-loved St. Francis of Assisi saying, “Just as what happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever [St. Francis] would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise.” (LS, 11.) We are invited into a real movement of the heart where we can begin to SEE the Risen Christ present in all of creation, to SEE the fingerprints of God in the forests, in a wildflower, in a blade of grass, in the depth of life beneath the seas. “The 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” (LS, 84). This is where we begin, connecting again, because we cannot protect what we do not love.
Jesus “was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder” (LS, 97). Jesus walked everywhere, went to quiet places to pray, mountain tops, he preached from boats on the water, his followers included fishermen who were in tune with the rhythm of the sea. The New Testament does not only tell us of the earthly Jesus and his tangible and loving relationship with the world. It also shows him risen and glorious, present throughout creation (Col 1:19-20). The risen One mysteriously holds all creatures to himself and directs them towards fullness. “The very flowers of the field and the birds which [Christ’s] human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence” (LS, 100). To be followers of Jesus, to love our neighbour, involves embracing the joy of Christ in all of creation and walking more gently on this earth, to be guardians and protectors of God’s handiwork.
The Easter Story is one of transformation and calls us to Hope. Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, rightly says, “Hope is found in action. When we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope – look for action. Then the hope will come.” Signs of resurrection are all around us, where people are living out this call to love one another in hope-filled action.
· I find hope when I see parishes, signing up to be Eco-Parishes.
· I see love of neighbour when I see young people rising up to call politicians to account on the failure to address this crisis.
· I find hope when I see a local parish turning their lawn into a wildflower meadow.
· I see love of neighbour when the parish centre implements recycling stations.
· I find hope when people of faith come together to plant trees wherever they can.
· I see and hear love of neighbour when our liturgies lament the destruction of biodiversity and our prayers invite communities to respond to the cry of the earth.
· I find hope wherever people are living out the call of Pope Francis to a profound interior conversion where our relationship with God’s creation is concerned.
So, this Easter Season, let us commit to transformation, to really reflect on how we emerge from this pandemic onto a different path. Like the psalmist today we are invited to “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done wondrous deeds… Sing joyfully to the LORD… sing praise.” (Psalm 98).
“Truly, much can be done!” (LS, 180).
Jane Mellett lives in Dublin, Ireland and is the Laudato Si’ Officer with Tròcaire (the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland). Prior to this, Jane was a parish pastoral worker with the Archdiocese of Dublin serving in parish ministry for many years. A graduate of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, Jane holds a Masters Degree in Theology (specializing in New Testament Scripture) as well as a Masters in International Development from Kimmage Development Studies Centre, Dublin.
Jane qualified as a Spiritual Director in 2015 having journeyed with Ignatian Spirituality through the Manresa Jesuit Centre for Spirituality, Dublin. Jane has spent various periods of time volunteering in India and through this has gained a keen interest in Eastern Christian spirituality. In 2017, she qualified as a yoga and meditation teacher and is passionate about the integration of these practices within Western Christianity.
In 2018, Jane embarked on a Climate Pilgrimage, carrying the message of Laudato Si’ from Italy to Poland to the UN Climate Talks (COP24). This, she describes, as a real experience of ‘ecological conversion’ and since then she has dedicated her time to share the wisdom of Laudato Si’ with others, especially in the areas of ecological education and spirituality.
For the past ten years, Jane and her friend Triona Doherty, have shared the writing of the DeepEnd column, reflections on the Sunday Gospels, in Intercom Magazine (Veritas, Dublin). Their first book, a collection of these scripture reflections, will be published by Messenger later this year: “The Deep End: A Journey with the Sunday Gospels in the Year of Luke".
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