The Church will observe a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” on 1 September, as has been the custom in the Orthodox Church for some time.
Pope Francis, in his letter about this event to Card. Turkson (President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) and Card. Koch (President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity) made a statement about this day which left me scratching my head a little. HERE
In the statement the Pope said…
The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.
“Sins committed against the world”… what does that mean?
I think in most languages there is an idiomatic understanding of “the world” as being “everyone”, that is “all people”. But that doesn’t seem to be what this is all about.
We are to have a care for creation around us – which includes people. Is that the main thrust in this statement? It seems to me that he is talking about the non-human environment.
Of course Laudato si‘ tries to bring the two together.
Sometimes when we talk about sin, we say we sin against a virtue (charity) or against neighbor. However, if we stray from truth and charity, or if we harm our neighbor our sin is truly against God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out…
1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125
122 Ps 51:4. 123 Gen 3:5. 124 St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 14,28:PL 41,436. 125 Cf. Phil 2:6-9.
A sin against a virtue (an abstraction) is a sin against God. A sin against neighbor is a sin against God.
Do we sin against some creature which isn’t a person? Clods of dirt, plants, and critters are not persons. We cannot sin against a critter, a plant or a clod (of dirt, that is).
If we commit vandalism against a sacred thing, such as a chalice, a church or a cemetery, we do not sin against those things but rather against God, the one to whom those sacred things are dedicated with special consecration.
If we sin by pouring unreasonable, dangerous, extreme quantities poisons into the earth or air or water or by mistreating animals, we do not sin against the earth, air or water or against the animals. We sins against our neighbor, for making his life miserable, but, more fundamentally, we sin against God by violating His will when He made us creation’s stewards.
We do not sin against the world we live in.
Unless… we think the world is god.
There are those immanentists out there who verge on pantheism. There are immanentists in the Church, as a matter of fact! Lots of them! Some of them wear Roman collars, many wear lapel pins and polyester, most wear flipflops and shorts (at least in church). Come to think of it, immanentists come in all shapes and sizes and they are often well dressed. Most modern immanentists of our acquaintance suffer from what I call “Immanentism Lite”, that is, they don’t deny the transcendence of God, they simply never think about it.
God is, first and foremost, transcendent. That’s a harder way of grasping God. Since it is harder, it isn’t as easily communicated. This is why the traditional, Extraordinary Form is so important. It provides the necessary hard elements, the apophatic elements, which help us to an experience of awe and the detachment from self which is critical if we want to overcome life’s “daily winter”, our fear of death. This is the very purpose of Religion. Our liturgical worship must help us to be purified of distractions that keep us from confronting our fear of death and that prevent us from encountering mystery. We need in our worship a measure of privation, hunger and longing for that which in this life we can only darkly as if through Paul’s mirror or the cleft in Moses’ rock.
The Church herself, in many cases, has inflicted immanentism on these folks through decades of shoddy, horizontal self-enclosed liturgy, poor catechesis, feckless leadership, and secular propaganda (not lacking within the Church).
So, to be clear, even if our language gets a little loose, we sin against God and God alone and not the world we live in.