As we hear the sounds of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” so frequently in the background these days, our national and even global attention has been focused on matters “green” in terms of the events that have taken place in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the Climate Change Conference.
Many news commentators have observed during these past days that the pope and the Vatican have very much come out in support of the Copenhagen agenda. The leader of the Vatican delegation was the Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, who in fact offered a St. Thérèse Lecture here in Madison in the spring of 2008. In Copenhagen, Archbishop Migliore referred several times to the thought of Pope Benedict and the teaching of the Church with regard to responsible stewardship of the environment.
Respect for nature rooted in respect for all life
The degradation or defacing of the environment surely is one of the “social sins” of our day. In his 1984 Apostolic Exhortation entitled “On Reconciliation and Penance,” following a General Synod of Bishops in Rome, Venerable Pope John Paul the Great pointed out that, in the end, all social sin has its roots in personal sin. A dynamic develops as people and groups of people engage in personal sins that has trajectory towards a social sin — be it discrimination, environmental pollution, or an abortion-inclined culture.
Applying this insight, Archbishop Migliore stated, on Pope Benedict’s behalf, that individuals will treat the environment as they treat themselves, in their respect for their own human nature. Respect for nature, in terms of climate change, requires, in the first place, respect for one’s own human nature, of one’s own ecology.
The killing of the pre-born through abortion or for purposes of embryonic stem cell research, or the dispatching of the elderly and ill in the name of “mercy killing” or physician assisted suicide, are all grave personal sins against the human ecology, which can then conspire and spiral toward genuinely grievous social sins. As one treats his or her own human nature, so will he or she treat our shared ecological nature. In the end, both in terms of human nature and in terms of ecological nature, there is the same culture of life which is our worthwhile goal, rather than the too-often-chosen culture of death.
At Christmas, Jesus took on our human nature
At Christmas, Jesus Christ took on our human nature, thus defining it — since He is God — and also hallowing it. Nothing that Jesus assumed of our human nature was not saved and divinized, except sin. This is the core meaning of the Christmas celebration: to be human means to be like Christ, who took on human nature and, for our sake, became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
The humble baby whom we behold in the manger is a sign of the highest pinnacle that human nature can reach — that is, resurrection through suffering and death. All of this is wrapped up in this single great mystery of Christmas. The taking on of our human nature by Jesus Christ was, in itself, a sacrificial priestly act, because in assuming our human nature, Jesus assumed the necessity of suffering and death. (The mystery of Christmas “explodes” with so many dimensions and facets!)
Respect for creation leads us to its Author
Those of us who seek truly to live in accord with the Christmas mystery must therefore live with the deepest respect for ourselves and for others who share our human nature, from conception until natural death.
This respect flows over to the environment, which is God’s gift for sustaining our life. Furthermore, the environment, God’s creation, must be preserved from degradation and from mistreatment, because in its natural beauty, creation, by analogy, leads us to its Author, who is the One True God and Father of us all.
Our respect for nature follows naturally from our respect for our own human nature — respect which rests on the truth that human nature is defined by Jesus Christ, that human nature has, indeed, been divinized in all of its aspects, sin alone excepted.
So, perhaps the phrase, “green Christmas,” can be used to indicate one dimension of truth which flows from the Christmas mystery. With regard to our human nature, the beautiful carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” sums it up marvelously in the words that Jesus “is pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel,” Jesus as God-with-us.
Christmas is all about giving
So once again, as disciples of Jesus, we need to tell out to one another (and hard economic times make it much easier) that Christmas is not all about presents, about receiving. Christmas is all about giving, giving in the first place the best gift we can give to every other human being, which is love and respect.
Christmas is also about love and respect for the creation which surrounds us, for ecological nature which, by its beauty, leads us to kneel before its Creator, who designed it as His special gift so that human life may always be properly nurtured.
Stopping defacement of the environment depends on stopping defacement of our human nature. This is the teaching of our Church about “green” matters. And this teaching of our Church about “green” matters is very much grounded in the Christmas mystery, which we are called to celebrate with joy these days.
May the Lord bless all of you, your families, and your loved ones with the joy, the love, and the peace of Christmas, and may the blessings of health, safety, and above all an always deeper faith, accompany all of you into the new year. Let us surely pray for each other and for our country as we move into 2010.
Thank you for reading this and God bless you. Christ is born! Glorify Him!