On Sunday Pope Francis mentioned the upcoming "World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation" that the Church now celebrates annually on September 1. He said that on Thursday "we will celebrate the Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, together with our Orthodox brothers and other churches. It will be an occasion to reinforce our common efforts to protect life, respecting the environment and nature."
Pope Francis established this day in the Catholic Church to coincide with the efforts of other churches, especially the Orthodox. He said last year when he established the annual celebration, "Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience."
This awareness of our role as stewards of God’s creation reminds us that the world around us is not to be thought of as a product to consume, but a gift to be cherished. Our common home is a beautiful place, worth preserving for future generations and its natural beauty has a capacity to bring others to God.
Saint Augustine affirms the power of creation in drawing souls to God when he poses the challenge:
Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky. . . question all these realities. All respond: ‘See, we are beautiful.’ Their beauty is a profession [confessio]. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One [Pulcher] who is not subject to change?
The beauty of creation is seen in the eyes of faith as a “profession” of the existence of God, of the One who created all the beauty that we see.
This is closely related to what many people call the “design argument,” whereby a person sees the beauty, order and design of creation and thinks to themselves that “there must have been Someone behind this all.”
An interesting theory that I have heard from various people is that atheism started to spread more rapidly with the introduction of the street lamp. This began in the early 19th century and started what we know today as “light pollution.” When we look up at the sky, we no longer see the beauty of the stars. Instead, we are lucky if we see a dozen stars or any stars if we live inside the city.
The reason why this is linked with atheism is because even the pagans of old looked up at the vast array of stars in the sky and thought they were gods. They knew that there was something beyond themselves and thought the tiny specks of light they saw were celestial powers that governed the earth.
It is an interesting theory, one that I encourage all of us to test out. Drive outside of the city limits after nightfall on a clear day and find “the middle of nowhere.” Stop, turn your car’s lights off and look up.
Now obviously there are many scientists who study the sky and remain firm in their atheism. However, they do that when they divorce beauty from the truth. That is why when we stargaze or take people to do the same, we must always wed beauty and truth together.
Also, I would say the vast majority of people, when taken out to see the beauty of the stars, would have a reaction of awe and wonder rather than one of scientific curiosity.
So when we celebrate the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation,” let us remember the vital role the created world has in brining souls to God. It brings a new perspective in how we treat the earth and hopefully teaches us to be a good steward of God’s wonderful gift to us.