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Archbishop Mark Coleridge says the Church is not about to ‘butt out’ of debates over environment

Home to the garden: Archbisop Mark Coleridge says ecological spirituality is “all about the return to paradise, home to the garden, which is the ecstatic world of God – the world of right relationship that goes in all directions and at all levels – right relationship with myself; right relationship with you, my neighbours, my brothers and sisters; right relationship with God; and right relationship with the creation of God”.

ARCHBISHOP Mark Coleridge says the Church is not about to “butt out” of debates over environmental concerns.

Archbishop Coleridge offered that assurance in his response to a presentation given in Brisbane by president of the Oceania Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, Fiji.

Archbishop Chong gave first-hand insight into the plight of Pacific islanders affected by rising sea levels as a result of climate change, and other examples of environmental degradation.

The Fiji Church leader was a guest of Brisbane archdiocese for the start of the international Season of Creation (September 1-October 4) and the launch of the Living Laudato Si’ project in the archdiocese. 

Not just politics

Archbishop Coleridge thanked Archbishop Chong for his “powerful” presentation. 

“The problem is that when the Church gets involved in some of these issues, which are literally life and death, we’re accused of interfering in matters that do not pertain to us,” Archbishop Coleridge, when speaking after Archbishop Chong’s presentation at Australian Catholic University’s Brisbane campus, said.

Archbishop Coleridge cited the example of a senior member of the clergy who had preached a homily to a Sunday congregation for the launch of the Season of Creation “only to have a lady appear at the sacristy door after Mass and say, ‘I didn’t come to Mass to have you talk to me about climate change’”.

“Now, there is the problem … because, the whole question of ecological concern in the mind of many, many people is really all about politics and ideology, economy and science, and, therefore ‘Religious people, steer clear – butt out’, is what you hear constantly,” the Archbishop said.

“It was the reaction that greeted (Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical) Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home).

“‘What on earth is the Bishop of Rome doing talking about things of which he knows absolutely nothing?’ … ‘Leave it to the politicians, the ideologues, the lobbyists, the activists, the economists and, of course, the scientists’. ‘Preacher, butt out …’

“Well, I’m afraid it’s not going to be like that, because what we have come to understand – and (Archbishop) Peter has touched upon this in a very interesting coda at the end of his talk – the need for a new language, a language that we would call, rightly, ‘sacramental’.

“Now, in all of this, what it seems to me the Church has had to do and still needs to do is to find our own utterly distinctive voice in the cacophony, and speak, not as a politician, not as an ideologue, not as an activist, not as a lobbyist, not as a scientist, not as an economist, but to speak with the voice of the Bible.

“The Bible has profound and powerful and endlessly fresh things to say in this conversation, and God help us if that voice falls silent.”

Archbishop Coleridge said this was “a voice that is authentically biblical and is authentically Christian and, dare I say, authentically Catholic, because we’re talking about that interconnectedness …”

Ladauto Si', the Hobbit and Tolkien
Stewards of creation: “The Bible has profound and powerful and endlessly fresh things to say in this conversation, and God help us if that voice falls silent.”

“In that sense, this is a catholic moment, it seems to me, and can lead us into a deeper sense and experience of what it means to be Catholic, interconnected with everything and everyone,” he said.

“I say this at a time when our moral authority, particularly the moral authority of the bishops or the Magisterium, has been, in the words of the politician I was talking to the other day, ‘smashed’.

“But it seems to me that this is one area where, in fact, we have the chance – not to recover a lost authority; it’s gone forever, it’s been ‘smashed’ – but to move towards another kind of authority … We have a chance in this vital area.

“In this area I think we have a God-given opportunity to move towards another kind of authority.

“It will not come cheap; it will involve great sacrifice.”

The Archbishop said that, in its defence of divine transcendence, “the Bible absolutely insists that God is in the world but not of it – infinitely beyond it, and infinitely in it”.

“So the world is not God. … But the world is entrusted to the human being as a sacred responsibility,” he said.

“So (the human being is) a creature, made of dust, bearing the breath of God, and called by God to be a co-creator, a creature therefore possessed of a unique and magnificent dignity, but it is the dignity of a steward.

“It is not the divine dignity – so (it’s) to care for the creation, to love the creation, to till and keep the garden, as the Book of Genesis says – not to ruin it.”

Working with God

Archbishop Coleridge said working with God in that sense was “part of what I mean by a biblical voice”.

“The Christian and distinctively Catholic voice speaks out of the sense of the Incarnation, not just as an event that happened once but as the way God is in the world and with us.

“The Word was and always is made flesh, and, again, that sacramental sense, therefore, of flesh and, therefore, of the created world, which is so typically Catholic and which makes the connection between ecological and liturgical concern.

“That leads me then to claim that we need to find our way into a contemplative ecology.”

A contemplative ecology “has deep, deep roots in the mystical and contemplative traditions of Christianity, that reach everywhere through the desert and back to the garden, which is our true home”, the Archbishop said.

“So (Archbishop) Peter, I think, … has led us to understand more of what all that might mean, not just in some intellectual sense – conceptual sense – but what it means at the point of action too,” he said.

“In all of this we have to have an open eye. …The contemplative eye is the eye of God who looks upon all that he has created and finds it good.

“… So, rather than a problem to be solved, as perhaps science can see the world, or as a thing to be consumed, according to the techno-economic paradigm that (Archbishop) Peter has spoken of, the world is a joyful mystery.

“The world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gratitude and praise …

“These are words that were written about the ecstatic cry of St Francis that gives us the title, Laudato Si’ – ‘Praise be to you …’

“It’s the language of paradise where we come home to the garden.

“And that’s, again, the Scripture is all about the return to paradise.

“So, in that sense and in ecological spirituality, it’s all about the return to paradise, home to the garden, which is the ecstatic world of God – the world of right relationship that goes in all directions and at all levels – right relationship with myself; right relationship with you, my neighbours, my brothers and sisters; right relationship with God; and right relationship with the creation of God.

“If we can find our way to that point, we have come home to paradise, which is our true home.

“Where Jesus has gone, we are called to follow.

“All of that is a way of saying that what we are talking about …, and what (Archbishop) Peter has led us to reflect upon in new and enlightening ways, is not just a wacky footnote in the life of the Church nor is it just part of what the Church is on about because, if it is about this vast interconnectedness where everything is connected to everything else in the great God-given web of life, then there is no part of the Church’s life, … that is not touched by the concerns raised by Pope Francis in his encyclical letter and by Archbishop Peter Loy Chong in his presentation tonight.” 

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