He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
A few weeks ago we heard reports of the death of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino. Biologist have some hope of reviving the species artificially but the death of the old bull marks another step toward the extinction of many forms of life. If we cannot maintain a species that is beloved of zoologists, how will we protect millions of unknown species on our planet?
Belatedly, the Catholic Church has heard the cry of alarm and begun to realize our ecological responsibility. Religion still makes a difference to many people. For some people, if religious leaders don't care about an issue, they suppose it's no issue at all. If Christian leaders say the only thing that matters is the "salvation of the immortal soul," they won't raise a finger to protect life on our mother planet.
But when religious leaders, the Pope in particular, sound the alarm, the world notices.
Since the United States attempted to end slavery during the Civil War, and nationalism during the Second World War, we have begun to notice the terrible cost of those evils. Slavery shamelessly wastes human lives and potential. The peculiar institution squanders not only the lives of captive men and women, their resources and the earth around them are also wasted. Nothing matters to the "owners" but that they should not lose their "property."
We saw the rot in National Socialism with its genocides against Jews, Roma, homosexuals and countless others. Their worship of power ignored all that is beautiful in the world. Communism has also cost the world much of its beauty, as the disappearance of the Aral Sea and the pollution of Lake Baikal in Siberia testify.
In the United States the endless pursuit of wealth and success scourges the land. I have heard that the most successful people are not really interested in money; they simply can't abide losing. They might make a small concession for the sake of "doing the right thing;" but, possessed by their possessions, they are consumed by the fear of losing anything they have already acquired.
In today's gospel, the final words of Saint Mark's Gospel, we hear Jesus' command to "proclaim the Gospel to every creature." If dumb animals cannot pronounce the name of Jesus, they are nonetheless worthy of our care and concern. By our reverence for the Earth we proclaim the Lord's word.
This is more than "enlightened self-interest." Some green economists try to tell us how much our reckless exploitation imperils us. I'm sure that's true but we can do better than that. We should have a profound reverence for beauty wherever we meet it, whether in the flight of the bald eagle, the efficiency of the vulture, or the hiss of a rattlesnake. Our world is not for us and our needs; rather we are stewards of the Earth and will have to account for our use of it on the Day of Judgment.
A hundred years ago we could not imagine the irreparable pollution of air, water and earth; we could not suppose that shopping, plastics and the automobile might create such havoc. Before the First World War, many supposed technology and progress were unmitigated blessings. We know better now. We know the world is suffering with our Original Sin -- and we hear the cry which Saint Paul recorded:
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.