Looking around us today the world appears to be in turmoil. There continue to be struggles with hunger in various parts of Africa, some caused by politics and some by drought. Unspeakable things are happening in the Middle East with the violence of that region creeping into European countries that have prided themselves on decades of peace. Complete disillusionment with and distrust of the political establishment in countries, such as ours. And on top of that, we are being warned of an ecological Armageddon waiting to pounce. At the same time, we are being cheered by the Rio Olympics, though politics are playing a major part in decisions about who should and should not be allowed to take part.
In the middle of this, tonight we are gathered in this beautiful part of the world, at this time of great abundance in all that we see around us, being offered a glimpse of a way through the turmoil by a strange saint who lived 800 years ago. What St. Francis of Assisi discovered is that all aspects in all creation are related. If we want reconciliation in the very beautiful but very wounded world in which we live, we need to acknowledge this relatedness and work on it. Hunger in Africa, violence in the Middle East, our relationships in politics and the way we treat creation are all inter-related. Just as God is a web of relationships, so, too, we are a web of relationships and when one part goes wrong, all are affected. Pope Francis, who named himself after St. Francis, highlights this inter-relatedness in his encyclical, a document he wrote just over a year ago and calls for a change in attitude:
If we approach nature and the environment without … openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ , On care for our Common Home, Vatican Press, 24 May, 2015, para.11.
In other words, if we mis-use and exploit creation and the environment treating them like an object, then we will mis-use and exploit people, treating them as objects, as less than human. If we treat other human beings – whether they be our partners, members of our family, members of our village community, members of our school community or migrants seeking refuge in our country – as objects or nuisances, then we will treat creation and the environment in a similar way. Reconciliation, an urging which lies at the heart of the Christian Gospel as well as at the heart of humanity, encourages us to look beyond ourselves, to acknowledge this inter-relatedness and do our bit, in the small part of the world in which we live, to treat creation and each other with love and respect.
Many may say that the problem is too big for us to do anything about….that’s for ‘other people’ to sort. But we can make a difference in our relationship with those around us and with the environment in which we live. It’s also important to remember that, unexpectedly, things can go viral. For example, the Christian faith started with 12 disciples and spread from there. St. Francis started with a few followers and spread from there…..and we’re still talking about him 800 years later. It was their passion and commitment to what they believed in that brought about change, first within themselves, then around them and then, as I said, it went viral. The same can be true for us. And, again, Francis, Pope Francis, gives us a clue for a way forward:
Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.Laundato Si, para.12.
Talk given at: ‘The Spirit of Exmoor. A celebration of the life of St. Francis of Assisi.’
St. Mary’s Church, Luxborough, Somerset. 11th August, 2016.