Raise your eyes and look at the fields

The encyclical Laudato Si, published on 23 May 2015, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, is about the endearment of the common good, that is concerning creation and the environment. Try as you may, you will not find a quotation from St. Augustine in this encyclical …. not even a single one! So, you may ask me, why all this talk about the environment, creation, ecology, the encyclical and today the feast of St. Augustine?

Over the past few years there has been much preoccupation about the destruction of the environment. Through indiscriminate unsustainable development, unplanned, without any vision and without any concern for the future, we ended by contaminating the world, with serious consequences for mankind due to global warming. For a long time, science has brought to light this challenge, but there was not always the political will seriously to realise the urgency of all this.

In our Order, during the Intermediary General Chapter of 1998, at one stage mention was made that St Augustine considered that the relationship of creation and nature had an ethical element …. nature that is good, that speaks of God and is a sign of the Holy Trinity. Doing something that goes against the environment is tantamount to breaking this unity. We look upon the environment as gift from God, given to all mankind, to us and to future generations. This Christian vision of the environment is profoundly Augustinian, today being threatened more than ever before and which requires a new, creative and solid response.

Pope Francis, in this encyclical, Laudato Si, when referring to the words of Pope St. John Paul II, said that God wrote a most beautiful book, that “his letters are present in all the universe’s creations…….” and when he was arguing with Fausto he told him: “Fix your eyes on all creation, like one who reads an important book on everything.”

When reading St. Augustine, one discovers how much he was close to creation and nature; how observant he was is reflected in his homilies …. he mentions various species of animals; plants, etc. One will note that Augustine used to pause and to observe how bees busily go about their work so as not to go hungry in winter. He used very happily to observe farmers in their fields. And this was a Bishop, who had many other things to attend to but who still found the time to contemplate how birds built their nests, how they fed their young ones and how they taught them how to fly. For Augustine everything served to teach him something, so that he could use these esperiences as an example or as an analogy for some truth that is difficult to explain.

As we are reminded by Pope Francis: “Jesus could invite others to give attention to the beauty that we find in this world, because He himself was ceaselessly in touch with nature and used to show it His full attention with love and wonder. When he moved from place to place in the land of his birth, he used to stop to contemplate the beauty created by his Father and to invite the disciples that, with all that was round them, they be filled with the divine message: ‘Lift your eyes and see how the fields are ready for harvesting’ (Jon. 4:35).”

The Pope reminds us that when we say that we have command over the earth (as we read in the Book of Genesis), “the correct interpretation that man, as ruler of the universe, is actually a responsible administrator.” In the English version of Laudato Si this concept is stated to be stewardship. This (or, indeed, care of the environment) is one of the main themes in the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Church teaches that all the world’s goods are a gift from God’, are intended for all, and are destined for the common good. And here we should recall the sub-title of the encyclical……regarding the affection towards a common home.

This concept of stewardship combines well with the Augustinian thinking of the common good, which is one of the basic principles of St. Augustine’s vision of the spirituality of the common good. In the Augustinian Rules he tells us “do not say that you own anything but everything must belong to all……that is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, that “they had everything in common” (Chapter 1). Later, Chapter 5 reads: “the more you take care of the common good before your own, the more you will realise how much you will be moving forward in life of your soul.”

The concept of stewardship indicates to us that the world is for all of us, and everybody is responsible to take care of the world as stewards. We are much more than simply consumers and those making use of natural resources.

How we take care of the common good in the environment is reflected in the manner in which we follow this principle of stewardship, and also as also in the love we show towards others and the Creator, towards God. And this is the Augustinian way of how we look at the world. When we view ecology, we should not forget anthropology, and we cannot simply view a closed world without taking cognisance of humankind in this creation.

And if we, as persons, recognise our Christian ecology (which for Augustine was so important and on which he spoke, that we are witnesses to God; that sin entered the world; that there is grace and salvation of Jesus Christ), and our participation in creation, only then can we see, as Pope Francis did in the encyclical as viewed from the anthropological angle; where we see that our relationship with creation is a reflection of our relationship with mankind and with God.

If we look upon the ecology, the environment and the world as having been created for one’s own personal use, and for one’s sole benefit, how I can use the land for my own benefit, creation for the benefit of ulterior needs , then this will reflect on our relationship with others, and how we relate to them….. because I start seeing how I can use the other person, because I need somebody to do me something, because I am uncapable to cope, etc..……We still view others, and also workers as being somebody who brings me joy in our journey towards God and in this common project.

Let us always bear in mind that in all our ministries there should be awareness of the importance of what is called “environmental justice”, or “integrated ecology”. This refers to the connection that there is between ecological questions and issues of poverty, of peace and of justice, that Augustine spoke about so much in his time, and on which we are invited to reflect and to talk about in the time we are living and in Maltese society.

We are invited to pray for that purpose in the World Day of Prayer for the Wellbeing of Creation which the Pope established on 10 August 2015 and which is being celebrated annually on 1 September. This day of prayer is intended to give us, individually and also as a community, the opportunity to reaffirm our vocation to be stewards of creation. Let us read and meditate on this encyclical, which also give us the opportunity to go back to St. Augustine and to learn from him how e can live in close contact with the environment, with creation and with nature.

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