When it comes to Lent, which begins March 2nd, we have so many resources to enhance our journey to the cross and resurrection! Most of them are ways to encounter Jesus in perhaps a new way: historical, biblical, fictional, graphic, prayerful. We have Stations of the Cross through the eyes of Mary and her companions, Stations with a social justice focus, Stations for kids, Stations for seniors.
A new discovery of mine expands the groaning and suffering of Jesus out to perhaps unlikely fellow-sojourners: endangered animals.
In a long-standing biblical tradition, the 40 days of Lent can reflect the 40-day sequestering of all human and animal life on Noah’s ark, at the end of which, with the appearance of the rainbow, comes a brilliant representation of God’s New Covenant in the body, blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (In “B” years the first reading on the first Sunday of Lent reminds us that God has made a covenant with us and all creation as He tells Noah: “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.” Five times in that passage, God binds His people with all the animals of creation!)
Through the weeks of Lent, my parish Laudato Si group will be reading WILD HOPE: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing, by Gayle Boss, in which we are reminded that Noah’s story is indeed our story: as God made Noah responsible for the protection of His creation, Pope Francis reminds us in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si that we are equally responsible for the preservation of all of nature:
If the simple fact of being human moves people to care for the environment of which they are a part, Christians in their turn “realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.” It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions. (#64)
Each of the five weeks of Lent is focused on a group of four endangered animal species, threatened by hunger, sickness, homelessness, poisoning and hunting. Beautifully illustrated stories present the sufferings of these creatures, and challenge us to break open our hearts, to consider in true agape love what is best for them. In the both the Old and New Covenant, our church, community, and global environment are the “ark” that holds us together through the small and big cataclysms of our life. May this season rouse us from our self-absorption to awaken to the amazing ark-mates who share this world with us in an increasingly hostile environment. Long before this current extinction crisis, St. Paul heard all creation groaning, human and non-human alike. When we allow our hearts to break open in love for them, we can create a new ark.
Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it.
Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.
Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.
If you love everything, you will perceive the Divine Mystery in things.
Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day.
And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has been managing the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for over 4 years.