Deacon Rohrbacher Diocesan Staff writers

This precious gift God has entrusted to us

Along the Way – May 2015
By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

Last week it stopped raining in Douglas long enough for me to get outside and work in our little Mary Garden which is in one corner of our yard. The daffodils and tulips are beginning to come up — there will be lots of flowers blooming in May — and so are the horsetails, buttercups and other pesky weeds. So, after I pulled up the weeds, I mulched the garden with dried seaweed in the hope of keeping the weeds down and adding some much-needed nutrients to the soil.

Last fall, after planting bulbs in the Mary Garden, I moved the outdoor garden icon of Mary and Jesus indoors to protect it from the weather, which turned out to be a particularly good idea this past winter as we had quite a bit of wind, including a few days and nights when it reportedly gusted up to 90 mph. It needed not only protection from the elements but a bit of a refurbishing as well, so I’ve re-gilded the halo, repaired some faults in the gold highlighting and repainted some discolored and stained areas around the border.

The Shrine of St. Therese island on Memorial Day, 2014. The Shrine will host its annual Memorial Day events this year on May 25, 2015.

On the lower side of our yard, the Douglas Community Garden is slowly coming back to life after a long, cold winter and a cold, wet spring. It’s been great having this community garden as a neighbor, and I like to think of it as koinonia in one neighborhood. I’m grateful for any endeavor involving a variety of personalities and expertise that is collaborative and companionable.

How much trouble can you get into in a garden?
Of course there are rules and responsibilities. During the discussion of by-laws one person said: “It’s only a garden.” And then asked, “How much trouble can you get into in a garden?” Although usually I’m only inspired with the bon mot long after the moment has passed, on this occasion I managed this reply, “All you need are two fruit trees and a snake to get into plenty of trouble!” (So far I have successfully resisted the temptation to construct an arch over the entrance into the community garden featuring life-size figures of Adam and Eve reaching for the forbidden fruit.)

Ours is just a postage stamp of a flower garden and I’m not much of a gardener but puttering around out-of-doors with a wheelbarrow full of seaweed (or dirt or rocks) always gives me an opportunity to think. And lately I’ve been pondering this immense and verdant garden of a world that God has planted us in. Such a variety of climates and terrains filled with every kind of living plant and animal. What a miracle!

And alone among all of God’s creatures we have been given the miraculous gift of consciousness and reason that uniquely allows us (as far as we know), to appreciate and care for His creation. For many thousands of years the initial human response to nature was pantheistic. We regarded the animals, plants and natural processes as embodied divinities and spirits. But in the Hebrew scriptures we see how God slowly revealed Himself to the Israelites as the Creator and Lord of Creation, to whom the sun and moon, earth, sea and sky belong and are subject to. In the Canticle of the Three Youths (Daniel 3:57-88,56), the inspired author depicts the created world not as divine beings but as a choir of creatures, ceaselessly exalting and praising their Creator, either consciously, as in the case of the angels and human beings or by the excellence of their being, as in the case of the natural world.

When the time was ready, the divine Word, through which the Creator brought all that is into being was revealed fully in the person of Jesus, Son of the Father and son of Mary. As his disciples, we are invited to enter into the new life of Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, in and through the sacramental mysteries. Through the natural, created gifts of water, oil, bread and wine, we enter into the eternal life, joy, peace and blessedness of the One who created them.

Manipulating nature
In the past three hundred years since the beginning of the Enlightenment, scientific discoveries and the development of technologies have enabled human beings to more fully understand and to a certain extent manipulate and control nature. Certainly antibiotics, electricity, the internal combustion engine, increased crop yields and other scientific and technological developments have been of great benefit to humanity, lifting many millions from lives of poverty, sickness and hunger.

But not without a spiritual cost! At least in the Western world, our understanding of the natural world has been largely desacralized. We no longer regard the created world as the good gift of a loving God which we are called to gratefully cherish, protect and use wisely, but as a limitless repository of raw materials which are ours for the taking. Unsustainable economic growth and consumption which has only increased in past decades has spiritually and environmentally been a catastrophic development.

Halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, our destruction of the natural world, God’s creation, continues to accelerate. The burning of fossil fuels over the past 150 years and increasing levels of CO² and other greenhouse gases has resulted in an escalating rise in the temperature of the atmosphere and of the oceans. The scientific consensus tells us that global warming has begun to change weather patterns around the world and melting glaciers and the polar icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica which will result in a long-term rise in sea levels.

In the oceans the rising acidity of the seawater and increasing water temperatures threaten many of the tiny plants and animals that are the foundation of life in the sea. On land, more species of plants and animals are being driven to extinction by the destruction of their habitats, global warming and other environmental changes driven by human activity than since the end of the dinosaurs.

Papal involvement
In his message for the World Day of Peace in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our life-style and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view. We can no longer do without a real change of outlook which will result in new life-styles, ‘in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments’. [John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 36.] “

Pope Francis is currently preparing an encyclical on global warming and the environmental crisis, in which he is expected to address the urgent need to do all that is possible to reduce the emission greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which are raising the global temperatures, as well as the severe impact of global warming and other environmental degradation on the poor and the powerless. Presumably his encyclical will provide a Christian perspective on global warming and climate change and propose concrete actions we can take to become better and more effective stewards of this beautiful world that God planted us in.

May we take to heart the words of the Holy Father, reflecting on our vocation to be stewards of creation: “Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for creation, this precious gift which God has entrusted to us.”

Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau.
Phone: 907-586-2227 ext. 23.   Email:

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