Joseph Haydn’s setting of Psalm 19:1 to music in No. 13 of his oratorio Die Schöpfung (The Creation), proclaims that Creation reveals the Creator. I have found this to be true throughout my life, and I often find that hiking and enjoying the world which God has created for us is the best way for me to encounter God.
I have twice had the opportunity to go on a 10 day backpacking trek in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico; where the Boy Scouts own 140,000 acres of wilderness called Philmont. Before you are allowed in the “backcountry” you must learn how to leave minimal impact in order to preserve the wilderness for others, principles called Leave No Trace. The ideal of these principles are to “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.” Because others have been good stewards of the beautiful country God created, I have had the opportunity to enjoy the views and encounter Christ myself through the beauty of his creation. For me, this encounter came from summiting some of the highest peaks in New Mexico and beholding the wonders of his works.
Each hiker at Philmont performs a conservation service project during his trek in order to preserve the ranch for future generations. This is the spirit that Pope Francis evokes in his encyclical Laudato Si’ and in today’s first annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1st. We are stewards of the earth and must do our part to ensure that the world is preserved for future generations of God’s children. This day of prayer is exciting on many fronts, both from our stewardship of creation and the unity of our Christian family.
Pope Francis reminds us that creation is not just our natural environment, but the people around us, particularly the poor and those on the peripheries whom society deems disposable. In comments throughout his papacy, Pope Francis decries the consumerism which minimizes people to mere consumers of goods and marginalizes the poor, who without money do not “contribute” to the consumption economy, and are seen as worthless. Because of greed and the priority to make money at all costs, people and the environment – all of creation – is being sacrificed at the false altar of consumption. Pope Francis reminds us that “true wealth is the love of God, shared with others.”
Today is a day to pray for a world economy that prioritizes people over things and money, for a culture that cares for every living thing from the unborn child, to the elderly, to the trees and rivers, birds and bees. Catholics join our Orthodox brethren who have formally prayed for the care of creation on this day since 1989. It is good that we join in prayer with our Christian family today and moving forward because, as St. Vincent Pallotti foresaw, living in a shared world requires perseverance, sharing of resources and a spirit of service. We will all need these virtues to develop an authentic human ecology and build up Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.