Fr Tom Rouse
The Gospel of Creation’ is an expressive title for a chapter dedicated to briefly exploring the key biblical themes of creation theology. This title suggests that creation is to be read, absorbed and proclaimed because it is also a bearer of the Good News of Jesus Christ. As Pope Francis acclaims in the course of this chapter, ‘God has written a precious book…’ (85). This chapter is like a catechetical tool that suggests an underlying poetic form, with three sets of ‘couplets’ and a concluding refrain.
The first two themes – light and wisdom – respond to the initial question of who should be part of the conversation that underlies the challenge to create an ecology capable of repairing the damage done to our world. The answer is all branches of science and all forms of wisdom, including religion. For this reason, we Christians should shoulder responsibility for safeguarding our planetary heritage as an essential part of our faith. The argument in support of this demand is spelt out in Francis’ brief study of the biblical accounts that speak to our relationship to the world.
In drawing to light the next two themes – mystery and message – Francis argues that, according to our Judeo-Christian tradition, there is a distinction between the notions of ‘creation’ and ‘nature’. Nature is what we study or analyse in order to manipulate or control.
Creation, on the other hand, is the gift of God. As he puts it, ‘The entire universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.’ (84). What this notion also advises is that we ‘respect the infinite distance between God and the things of this world’ (88).
Communion and destination, the following thematic ‘couplet’, remind us of the social dimension of our relationship and interconnectedness with creation. Intimate connection with our natural environment should arouse indignation ‘at the enormous inequalities in our midst’ (90) because ‘the earth is essentially a shared inheritance whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone’ (93). A key term in the final section of this chapter is invitation.
Jesus invites us, his disciples, to be attentive to the beauty of, and to live in harmony with, creation. The ultimate destiny of creation is to be drawn back into ‘the fullness of God’ through the reconciling power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The concluding sentence chimes with the refrain ‘the gaze of Jesus’.
‘The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.’ (100)
How do we look at the world around us here in Aotearoa? Is not the ‘gaze of Jesus’ found in the eyes of those who search the stars, those whose wisdom stems from a feel for the spirits that reside in the land, in the mountains and the rivers, the birds and the trees?
The power of Māori spirituality lies not only in its deep sense of connectedness with the whenua but also with its sense of communal responsibility for all who live in the land.
Perhaps we need to bring to light those images that connect us with the wisdom of Māori, tangata whenua, and the experiences of the diverse peoples who have come, not only to make this land their home, but also to value, cherish and respect this land we call Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Let us continually strive to bring to the fore the wisdom of those who read the stars, those who have a feel for the sacredness of the land, and those who ensure that none are excluded from the fruits of the earth.
In this way, and within our own environment, we can meet the challenge and invitation of Francis – to read, absorb and proclaim ‘the gospel of creation’.