As we celebrate Earth Day (22 April) we Franciscans are especially committed to the care of ‘our sister Mother Earth’ as St Francis called our common home. American Friar Karl Koenig, OFM, reflects on the significance the care of creation in his own life.
I can remember my very first May in junior high school, when we celebrated the first of May as a special day to honour the beginning of a new growing season. As a class, we would plant a tree outside of the school. We started digging a hole mixing fertilizer and adding water, and we had planted a tree. All of us helped fill the space around the tree with the soil and watered it. We went back to class to listen to how important one tree would make the world a better place to live now and in the future.
As I grew up, I started to plant vegetables and flowers, take care of the grass, and trim trees and bushes. As usual, the first day of May we would have a special tree planting each year. Before long, this became a community event and each first of May first became a day to celebrate a new growing season. I remember learning the importance of being involved in doing this work as a way to make the earth a better place for all people in the world. A religion teacher I had in high school explained how, if we all worked together as Christians caring for all of Earth’s natural resources, we were making life better for all mankind. Caring for the environment and food supply were our part of helping all people to have what they needed to live a dignified life.
By the time I got into biology class in high school, we learned more about plants and animal life of earth how important it was for us to be aware of what we needed to do all the time. Taking care of the earth and the environment depended on us to make the world a better place for all people who depended on plant and animal life to live a dignified life having food and good water for all humankind. And, it also meant finding better ways to take care of our natural resources.
Seeing the Earth as God’s Creation
It was about this time that I read a book on the life of St. Francis and about how he saw God in all creation, the plants, flowers, trees, and all animals. Francis saw all living things and the beauty of the earth as being part of God’s presence among us. To see the earth as God’s creation, we can see God’s love for all of us.
Reflecting on all creation — my love for animals, the beauty of flowers, the mighty oak trees, especially one that has been behind the house in which I grew up, that is over 100 years old, Fritz, my dog that went everywhere with me, the birds that wake me up each day, the geese crossing the road in front my car — help me to remember why I became a friar, to follow St. Francis.
I began to take on a new understanding of my place as a friar, especially seeing how we were abusing life and worlds riches, and how we needed to improve our taking care of all of the riches we took from the world. I got involved in helping to educate people to better understand how we should not waste the natural resources, but value all ways of improving our world.
Now, I have a special day to remember and it is called Earth Day.
Today, I work with people to educate them to understand what damage we have caused and how we need to change our outlook and lifestyle. I tell them about the importance of working to stop the abuse of all nature resources and find better ways to improve the environment, and I remind them that all mankind needs to be concerned for the world, how we share it’s resources and care for its future.
Spirituality now is part of my life regarding the care of all living things. Francis opened the door so we truly see how we are doing the work of God, by taking care of the environment and all life on earth. We all need to work together or we will not be able to make this world of ours a better place.
All Christians need to become more aware of how we waste the world’s goods. By working together, we can make the world and the environment a better place for all.
— Br. Karl, a native of Philadelphia, serves at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J. He is a member of the Holy Name Province’s Directorate for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.