By Tim Lilley
The Message editor
The Diocese of Evansville joins the larger Church in celebrating the Season of Creation, which runs annually from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. As part of that celebration, Sts. Mary and John Parish in downtown Evansville hosted the 2023 Diocesan Green Mass Sept. 16. Father Alex Zenthoefer, Vicar General of the Diocese of Evansville and Rector of St. Benedict Cathedral, concelebrated the Mass with Father Eugene Schmitt, Pastor of Sts. Mary and John Parish.
In his homily, Father Alex said that God is an unfailing stream, “the source of hope, the source of mercy and justice.” He continued, “God is always moving toward us, not like a tiny trickle of grace, but (like) a mighty river that rushes over us to the point that we can be overwhelmed by his power. But far too often, we have taken that great power, manifested in creation, and reduced it to something less; we have manipulated it for our purposes and treated as ours what does not belong to us.”
He talked about visiting Haiti on two occasions, noting that a country once hailed as the pearl of the Caribbean is eroding - figuratively and literally - by its broken government and extreme poverty. He said, “It’s a travesty, but we can hardly blame (the people) because they are doing what is needed to stay alive.” He asked those at Mass to imagine how things could change for the Haitian people if they had the means to build up their country and exalt creation.
Father Alex added, “The inhabitants of this earth are crying out, and the earth cries out with them.”
He suggested that humanity’s collective heartbeat is out of sync with the heartbeat of creation. He said, “We are off. One heart beats to give, to offer, while the other heart seeks to take.”
The Season of Creation, Father Alex explained, asks that we transform our hearts; transform the way we live; and transform policies that paralyze the ability for meaningful changes and trap people in systems from which they cannot escape.
He said we must transform our hearts and acknowledge that creation is a gift from God, not an object to be exploited. He said, “This is not exclusive to our gratitude for the earth, but it has to extend to every aspect of life. Life is a gift. Friendship is a gift. To begin to see all as gifts is the beginning of a new heart that beats with creation.”
As we seek to transform the way we live, Father Alex encouraged all to focus on reducing waste. “So much is wasted,” he said. “We have adopted systems that waste food, that waste people and waste the extremely valuable gift of human communities.” He added that we are called to be more attentive to valuing deeply every gift we receive - including our knowledge of Jesus and the victory (over sin) that he was won for us. “This … cannot be wasted by silence and a lack of courage to announce his presence,” he said.
Father Alex explained that, before we can transform policies, we must undergo personal conversion and transformation. He said, “This means engaging in dialogue and educating ourselves and others on the dangers and possibilities that are present to us. We do this for all future generations - as an act of charity. By doing this now, we are engaging in a corporal work of mercy: giving food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty.”
Father Alex suggested that the key to finding the zeal and faith to pursue holy and authentic care for the earth involves each of us finding a face to do it for. He said, “I don’t know about you; but if I’m going to sacrifice, I need someone to do it for.”
As he concluded, Father Alex said, “Let’s ask the Lord to show us a face a give us a reason to take on this responsibility and sacrifice. And may the justice and mercy of God surge out of us like a mighty river to wash away the sins of waste and apathy, and to create fertile soil for a more responsible humanity.”
Following Mass, Benedictine Sister Jean Marie Ballard thanked everyone who attended and explained that the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand had provided young lettuce plants, which they began hydroponically, for all to take with them.
For more information, visit usccb.org/environment.