Happy National Arbor Day. There are so many ways that we can find God. So often people look at the beauty of nature and see God there. We know that our God is the Creator and to be quite frank, he did a wonderful job of creating the world we live in. Everywhere you look in nature you can find true beauty. The poet Joyce Kilmer, in her poem, “Trees” declares the beauty of the tree and ends her poem with, “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” Although man can make some beautiful structures, and some beautiful pictures and art, it all pales compares to what we find in God’s creation.
One of the most popular Saints in the Catholic Church is St. Francis of Assisi. He is known for his love of God’s creation, plant and animal. His songs of Praise of God always mention the beautiful pieces of creation. He even sees the close link between our creation as a human and the creation of plants and animals. To Francis, we are all brother and sister to one another. He knew that there is a strong link between all the plants and animals. Modern day scientists tell us that we need plants just to live. They give off Oxygen and take in Carbon Dioxide while we take in Oxygen and give off Carbon Dioxide. There is a real balance between all of the parts of creation.
The Catholic Church has seen this from even further back then St. Francis and has called for a special honoring of all of creation. In modern times, Pope Paul VI, who had a deep love for the outdoors and for all of creation, decided to do something. He knew that our modern society was helping to destroy the environment so in 1971 he published an apostolic letter entitled Octogesima Adveniens— “A Call to Action.” In the letter, he listed 11 new social problems that the Church should confront, including the environment. He wrote, “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation.” He even went on to address the United Nations Conference on the Environment in 1972. In 1991 the Conference of American Bishops issued a pastoral letter arguing that environmental ethics are an integral part of Catholic teaching.
Pope John Paul II, a year after being elected Pope, named St. Francis of Assisi the patron saint of ecologists. In 1990, he issued a statement where he warned that the Earth was in danger not just from a nuclear arms race, or regional conflicts, but also a “a lack of due respect for nature, by the plundering of natural resources and by a progressive decline in the quality of life.” He added that things like “industrial waste, the burning of fossil fuels, unrestricted deforestation, and the use of certain types of herbicides, coolants and propellants” all contributed to the degradation of the environment.
Arbor Day began back in 1872 in Nebraska where over one million trees were planted. Since then Arbor Day is to help remind us of the beauty of nature, as well as our responsibility to care for it. As Catholics, we are supposed to do our share in caring for the environment. Perhaps this year you might want to plant a tree, or better yet, plant an idea in others about the need to care for the beauty of God’s creation.