Homily from Rev. Prof Michael Mullaney given at the Maynooth Christmas Carol service 2018
On the night the Titanic sank, it had received several signals from passing ships warning that it was sailing straight into an ice field. In fact, there were so many warnings, the radio officer curtly replied to a passing ship to stop jamming the signals. The rest, as they say, is history.
We too have been receiving the signals and warnings. As recently as a fortnight ago David Attenborough, in stark apocalyptic terms, stated the following: “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate Change. If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. … Time is running out.” Attenborough echoed what people such as Al Gore, Mary Robinson, our own John Sweeny (MU) and Lorna Gold (Trocaire) have been warning us for some time now, the ‘inconvenient truths’ about the effects of our behaviour on our beautiful world. Friends, we need to heed the modern-day prophets of climate change if we are to be reconciled with creation!
Kyoto, Rio, Paris and more recently Katowice warn us that, unless we have what Pope Francis calls an “ecological conversion” much of the earth will be uninhabitable for humans in 100 years or at best a painful place to live.
The facts speak for themselves. Already sixty percent of plant and animal species that evolved over billions of years have been wiped out in the last fifty years. For example this week we heard the reindeer population has halved in the last twenty years due to the rise in temperature melting ice, changing migration routes, causing longer summers, wildfires and mosquito carrying malaria. And, if every family in the world consumed the same as an average Irish family consumes today we would need 3.3 planets to supply our needs and this is simply not sustainable. We must not continue to live as if the world’s resources were infinite! Yet, despite the signals, for many of us our effect on the planet is not a priority.
The quality of life, our world, the planet, the tomorrow of our children is shaped by what we do today. We have about 12 years to cut our carbon emissions in half before we begin to lose control of the situation. As we wonder what to gift our children, let us reflect on what kind of world we want to leave to the next generation. This planet is on loan to every generation, a precious gift we must hand on.
Science, technology and politics all play important roles in tackling the complex ecological and climatic crisis for creating a world habitable for our children. But the question what kind of world to we want our children to inherit has also to address deeper questions: What is the purpose of our life in this world? What are the values to live by, our sense of justice for the earth, what does it mean to uphold the dignity of every the human person? What is our place in relation to creation?
Isaiah provoked this kind of reflection in his day. He spoke the inconvenient truth to the political and economic elites of his time. He challenged their numbed indifference to the greed and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable. Unbridled greed and gratification by the privileged had overridden justice and solidarity. They had forgotten their covenant with God and the holiness that sets limits on human choices that violate God’s purposes only at a great cost. Human exploitation leads to environmental devastation. For at the heart of the ecological crisis is a flawed anthropology (Francis in Laudato Sí); for the external deserts in the world grow when the internal deserts become so vast (Benedict XVI in his Inaugural Address). Isaiah speaks of a landscape withered and wasted; an earth that shrivels and dries up and can no longer sustain creation.
Again tonight, Isaiah’s inconvenient truths reach down to us from the heavens and challenge a rapacious developed world and its exploitation of the developing world! His words span the great chronological and cultural distance to reach our ears in Maynooth 2018. With the benefit of scientific knowledge, we know his truths are still valid: when our human choices are not good, neither is the future of creation. A mysterious holiness sets limits to human freedom and predatory greed.
A beautiful antiphon echoes in Advent: Pour down you heavens from above. Let the clouds rain forth the Just One; and the Advent prayer is answered in the Gospel tonight: the Word made flesh.
Christmas celebrates the Creator who enters creation as ‘Word made flesh.’ In this Godly action, all cosmic and biological evolution since the Big Bang has its nucleus in tender and vulnerable body of a child. The genetic history of the Child of Bethlehem, the ‘Word made flesh’, reaches back to our single-celled ancestors that emerged from water to evolve into plants, creatures and humans. ‘Word made Flesh’ rearranges the landscape of our imagination to know that our human connection to nature is deep. In this divine action, God enters in solidarity with all humanity and with every living creature, all creation! God hears not only the cry of the poor but also the cry of the earth. To paraphrase the angels’ announcement: Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace to God’s people and peace to God’s earth.
Friends, the Word becomes flesh anew when our relationship with each other and all living creatures are in peace and harmony, just and gentle. When we think this way about it, we can dare to hope still in the flourishing of human life and creation.
Then the poetic words of Isaiah that will grace our ears and fill our hearts tonight may also become flesh in our time: Let the dry lands exult, let the wastelands rejoice, let it bring forth flower like the jonquil. …. I will make the rivers well up on the barren heights. In the wilderness, I will plant cedar trees, myrtles, olives. … The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
Christmas Carol Service 2018
St Patrick’s College, Maynooth