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A swan with cygnets on the River Ill in Strasbourg A swan with cygnets on the River Ill in Strasbourg  (AFP or licensors)

Laudato si': "Gospel of creation" is the key that unlocks its meaning

Five years ago on May 24th, Pope Francis published his second encyclical, Laudato sí. Cardinal Turkson explains how it got its subtitle, how care for creation is connected with worship, and St Francis of Assisi’s vision of creation.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Cardinal Peter Turkson was a guest on a webinar sponsored by the Global Catholic Climate Movement during Laudato Sí Week.

The Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development unpacked the second chapter of the Encyclical, Laudato sí called the "Theology of Creation". He tells us how the Encyclical got its subtitle “On Care for Our Common Home” and how care for creation is connected with worship of God, the Creator.

Lastly, Cardinal Turkson explores the relationship as brothers that we share with all created things, as explained from the perspective of St Francis of Assisi.

The Gospel of Creation

Reflecting on Chapter Two of Laudato sí, Cardinal Turkson pointed out the significance of Pope Francis’s explanation of the “Gospel of Creation”. The purpose of the literary genre of the “Gospel”, Cardinal Turkson explained, is to proclaim the mighty works of God. Whenever someone speaks about what God has worked, whether it is salvation itself, or the well-being of the person, “it is always Good News, it is always Gospel”, he said.

Christian key to ecology

“The Pope, in referring to creation in terms of a Gospel, invites us to recognize in creation a great act of God which is beneficial to the human race”. This is, furthermore, a key with which to read the entire Encyclical because it forms the basis for why ecology and care for the earth is important for Christians. “It invites us to consider creation as an act of God, with a design and a purpose that is not based on the human person, but based on God’s own design for creating everything.”

In addition, it is an invitation for the Christian to seek God’s design in everything that is created. Genesis tells us that God designed creation so that it would be our home. Thus, the subtitle of the Encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home.”

Connection with worship

Our care for this common home that is creation has a direct link with worship, Cardinal Turkson went on to explain. Since the Christian is invited to view all of creation as an act of God, then how creation fits into how we worship the God who created it is the next step. It helps us in “our recognition of who God is and helps us raise our minds and hearts and everything in worship to God”, the Cardinal said.

Genesis expresses the role God entrusted to the human person in the “garden” He created. The word used in the Hebrew has a connotation of “service” and is also used in terms of the “service” the human person pays to God in worship. “So the human person’s working of everything that God has created in creation also represents his way of worshiping God, his way of serving God.”

Thus, all human activity ultimately has a “sense of worshiping God”, the Cardinal continued. Therefore, serious questions arise “if our work or use of the earth does not contribute to our worship and glorification of God”.

Earth belongs to everyone, present and future

A third element that we can derive from the fact that creation is an act of God is that it does not belong to any one particular portion of humanity to exploit “creation any way they want”. This applies both in terms of space but in terms of time as well. We are meant to take care of our present needs with a view to those who will need to take of their needs in the future as well. This is called “intergenerational solidarity”, he said.

Listen to Cardinal Turkson's presentation

Creation leads to contemplation

“The sense of the Gospel of creation leads to a contemplation”, which was developed by St Francis of Assisi, “who sees creation as an instrument for his own sense of prayer and meditation”. He also encouraged his brothers to use creation in their communities as an element through which they could worship God, the Cardinal explained.

Creation reveals God’s presence

In this way, St Francis is consonant with the Book of Wisdom and St Paul, who maintained that creation reflects God. He referred to Psalm 19 that says that the heavens and firmament proclaim “the might works of God”. This shows that creation has the capacity of narrating and revealing God’s presence. “This is very crucial”, the Cardinal noted.

“When St Francis saw in creation a means of contemplating the presence of God, it was in that sense.” Thus, what St Francis said can teach us a lot about care for creation, “preserving everything that God has made”.

Brothers and sisters to creation

“Creation, indeed, as Francis would say, is a brother, a sister. There is Brother Sun, but there is Sister Moon, Mother Earth.” Francis used terms regarding “kinship” to express our relationship to what God created. This means that “our relationship to creation is in terms of ‘kinship’.”

It was this way from the beginning, the Cardinal insisted. When God introduced man to His garden, the literal meaning of the Hebrew command He gave Adam was to “keep it”. “The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it”, or "keep it" (Genesis 2:15). It is the same word used by Cain when he asks if he is his brother’s keeper. “The relationship between brothers is reflected in the relationship between the human family and creation. Creation is for us, a kin, to be kept like we keep a brother… We vindicate our brother, we protect their lives. We safeguard everything they have”. 

22 May 2020, 17:46