Posted 14 September 2011, by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *, Catholic News Agency, catholicnewsagency.com
Care for God’s beloved creation presupposes a universal purpose of the earth’s goods. Stewardship brings with it responsible freedom “to respect creation and to promote an environmental culture that is based on respect for ethical values, the protection of life, an economy of solidarity and sustainable development.” (Benedict XVI: “Pope Encourages Ethical Ecology,” June 7, 2007). The issues are all of the same cloth, and attending to one without the other distorts the unitary view of the earth. Environmental imposition of contraceptives, abortion, genetic manipulation of human beings, and other distortions of the ethical norms that affect the care of human beings, must be rejected.
Catholic Social Justice and the Family
Moral principles begin with the family nucleus which is oriented toward joy, life and love. The transcendent character of men and women and their relationship with their Creator “favors an ecological respect for the environment and a respect for the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death” (Ibid).
Catholic social justice is justice according to the natural law. It is not mercy, giving the undeserved what they do not deserve. It accords the innocent what they deserve. It lifts up the humble. Catholic social justice affirms and protects the life of the individual and the family, and in a just society, ownership and property are ideals that protect the family. Those who work deserve the fruits of their labor. Freedom, the art of self-governing and self-control, opposes any arrangement that destroys the family. To paraphrase St. Paul, the family is the temple of God, and God must dwell within it. This is the essence of the Church’s teaching on social justice.
The Human Body
It goes without saying that the body participates in an integrated vision of the human person. Blessed John Paul II never ceased to remind us, and particularly our youth, that the human body has a specific meaning and role to play in our redemption. (John Paul II: “General Audience on the Theology of the Body,” (1982-84). Caring for it has assumed greater importance at a time when the body is seen as a machine to be manipulated, abused and misused in the name of self-gratification and personal freedom. “We are temples of God,” Paul reminds us, “and God [does] dwell within” (1 Cor 3:16). To internalize the divine indwelling is to reverence all of God’s creation.
Fragrance of the Garden
A healthy garden must be watered, trimmed and kept clean. As a healthy garden scents the atmosphere with its fragrances, so the lives of those who bear fruit and exude “the odor of sanctity,” made tangible through their person. In Catholic asceticism, “the odor of sanctity” has come to mean that fragrance proceeding from the person, clothing, or domicile of a saint during life or after death. The phrase also refers to a reputation for goodness and righteousness. In his classic, “The Graces of Interior Prayer,” A. Poulain writes: “Many saints have emitted agreeable odours during their lifetime or at death. These odours were various; they resembled those of the violet or the rose, orange-blossom, cinnamon, musk, benjamin, etc” (375, starred footnote). A beautiful scent may have the force of persuasion that convinces more than words or appearance. Paul links holiness in Christ to the image of a fragrant aroma:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor 2:14-16).
Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi compares the scent of a rose to the gospel of Christ and the Christian way of life:
Let your life speak to us even as the rose needs no speech but simply spreads its perfume. Even the blind who do not see the rose perceive its fragrance. That is the secret of the rose. But the Gospel that Jesus preached is much more subtle and fragrant than the Gospel of the rose. If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ need any agent (S.K. George, Gandhi and the Church,” published on Gandhi’s 75th birthday).
Despite the grim picture of our torn and unlovely world, our task is to be fruitful in the garden and make it an array of beauty for ourselves and for others in the present. Dedicated care-givers do this every day. The Creator-Spirit who breathed and brooded over cosmos is the same Spirit who, in every age and with our cooperation produces new and beautiful fruits.
* Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.