Less than two months ago, we marked the fifth-year anniversary of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s powerful encyclical on the care for our common home. The encyclical invites us to reassess our policies and its impacts on the environment. Pope Francis both challenges and encourages us to protect our common home by including “a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development” for the future generations[i] This has never been truer during the past months.
Human activity has tremendously impacted our environment. If we continue to encroach on the animal’s habitat due to our boundless consumption, we do harm to creation and to ourselves. Way back in 2012, Jim Robbins wrote his NYT article “Ecology of Disease” telling us how epidemics are caused by unchecked human activity.[ii] He states, “disease, it turns out, is largely an environmental issue.”
Despite the unbridled use of natural resources, the environment continues to heal and bring us closer to the divine. It helps us bear this unprecedented moment whenever we go out for a walk, whenever we listen to the harmony around us and whenever we admire the innate beauty of our surroundings. Unselfishly, the environment continues to mend us during this crisis. Moreover, it helps us encounter God through its wonder and beauty.
The sacredness of nature rings true especially today as we celebrate the memorial of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha . She is called the “Lilly of the Mohawks.” Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was a Christian Algonquin. Her parents and brother died of smallpox when she was four. After surviving the disease, Kateri was left to the care of her uncle. Her relatives wanted her to marry, but she refused knowing that only the “Great Spirit” can she love immensely. She was baptized on Easter Sunday at 19.
Living out her faith became a challenge. She was not offered food on Sundays because she would not work. She became an outsider in her community. Eventually she left her village and moved to Canada and stayed with fellow Christians, earnestly witnessing her faith. She went to the woods and stayed for an hour of prayer, communing with God in the sacredness of the environment. She made her little altar in the woods by making wooden crosses which she scattered near trees.[iii] She died at the age of 24 on April 17, 1680. The name Kateri is the Mohawk form of Catherine which she took from Catherine of Sienna. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012. She is popularly known as the patroness of ecology.
Inspired by St. Kateri, let us continue to nurture our deep connection with the environment with respect, mutuality, and accountability. Today, let us be reminded that we are stewards of creation and that the environment is a gift to be taken care of with gratitude. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Lilly of the Mohawks, pray for us!
Join us for Mass in recognition of the Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha on Tuesday, July 14th at 1pm. https://stm.yale.edu/youtubelive-mass