Every year, in the week prior to Holy Week, the priests of the diocese come together with me for the Chrism Mass. During this solemn annual eucharistic liturgy, the priests renew their priestly promises and the oils for the sacraments are consecrated. Following the renewal of priestly promises, deacons carry in procession three large vessels of olive oil: one for the oil of the sick, one for the oil of the catechumenate, and one for the oil of sacred chrism. All the oil to be blessed and consecrated comes from local olive orchards belonging to the Mayer family. This gives a special significance to the occasion.
The oil is derived from the fields of Northern California and produced by the labor of our neighbors for the benefit of the Catholic faithful throughout the north state. These precious yields are consecrated by ancient rituals for the sacred purpose of giving glory to God and comfort to God’s people. The beautiful harmony of Genesis is restored by the coming together of humanity and creation. Created in God’s goodness, the gifts are sanctified by the saving sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist.
This wonderful ceremony reminds us of the redeeming ecology that is always at work in the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. In every Mass, during the preparation of the gifts, the priest lifts up the bread and then the wine declaring to all the assembly, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands.” Because of its repetition we may lose sight of the significance of these words. The Lord Jesus incorporated creation and human labor in the redeeming work of his sacrifice on Calvary. All of creation is used as God intended, to give glory to the Creator in communion with Jesus Christ, “the firstborn of all creation.” (Col 1:15)
This holy ecology, a redeeming ecology, restores the beauty and goodness of all creation. For this reason, St. Paul proclaimed to the Colossians, “For in him (Christ) were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.” The ecological beauty of Paul’s words is made manifest to us in the harmony of the Eucharist, where all creation is reconciled in Christ “by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:20)
In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis compiled the Church’s teaching on the environment, especially that of his predecessors, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to urge all the faithful to pursue an “integral ecology” where all of creation finds its true nature and purpose in the person of Jesus. As we journey together through the Eucharistic Revival, a greater reverence for the real presence of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine, can also reorient our understanding of creation, both in nature as well as our own human nature.
Ecology is not only a matter of caring for the earth as the common home for all humanity. An integral ecology also implies that we are an “integral” part of creation. There is a human ecology that begins with seeing ourselves as created by God, man and woman, made in God’s own image and likeness.
Much of the destructive exploitation of the environment so evident today has its origin, its original sin, in the self-inflicted corruption of our human nature. When we fail to revere the divine design of our own human nature, we harm not only ourselves but abuse the creation entrusted to our care. Once we lose sight of being part of God’s creation, we make ourselves the masters of our own nature. As a consequence, we foolishly attempt to create ourselves and the world in our own image, wreaking havoc on all of creation. The creator’s command “to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28) is woefully distorted when we forget by whom and for whom we were made.
The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court rescinding the constitutional justification for abortion has upended the legal environment that has long contaminated the social climate of this nation. With the political fury that has ensued, many people, including many Catholics, ponder the horizon with anxiety and confusion. Like the people Moses led across the Red Sea in the Book of Exodus, when offered the opportunity to begin anew, a number today propose turning back to the way things were. (cf. Ex 14:10-13)
“Autonomy” has become the buzzword in the current media maelstrom without much consideration for its meaning or consequences. This is worthy of more thoughtful reflection. Is anyone created autonomously? Can one be autonomous from the air we breathe or the water we drink? There is a necessary, inalienable social dimension to the human person that begins at conception. Any sense of autonomy proper to the human person is derived only from our relationship to others and to the rest of creation. Autonomy – rightly understood – acknowledges an indebtedness to others who have brought us into being as well as the world into which we were born. This implies a responsibility to others and the earth, as well as oneself.
Pope Francis’ proposal of an “integral ecology” moves us forward toward a new sense of freedom expressed not by autonomy from others but in integrity, that is: living as an integral part of creation. Personal integrity finds one’s wholeness in relation to God and his creation. It means being true to one’s own God-given nature, a human nature that was given to each of us by others and is fulfilled only with others in the created world we share together. Only this sense of an integral ecology can foster the freedom and integrity to be who God calls us to be.
Autonomy in the prevailing moral climate has become the operating principle that chooses to un-encumber the human person from any sense of social integrity, believing that we create ourselves apart from others. This popular notion alienates us from creation as well as our own human nature. This skewed sense of self is what has justified the prolonged plague of abortion. When faced with an unexpected pregnancy the woman is left alone in her autonomy. Many of her social contacts – including spouses -- may reinforce her autonomy instead of fostering the social network that can open the door to a new relationship being engendered within her.
The Supreme Court’s decision has disrupted a dominant device of the “throw-away culture.” The reactions opposed to this new moral awakening have stubbornly clung to the contrived, false logic of disposable lives for the sake of autonomy. In the wake of this political disruption, the Catholic community, together with other people of goodwill, has the opportunity to foster a new moral ecology, an integral ecology that fosters an interconnectedness and mutual responsibility we have to support women and children. Human nature can recover a renewed harmony with all of creation.
In the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus is the firstborn of creation. He takes our human nature as well as the bread and wine, “the fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” to reconcile all things in himself by the blood of his cross. Our reverence for this wonderful, merciful mystery should lead us to build a world without abortion by engaging the work of creation and redemption with devotion and joy.