Tending the Ecosystem of the Faith

As a born and bred Western Washingtonian, I was raised to respect the environment. My entire education, especially in this part of the country, was ordered to toward making me acutely aware of the fundamental interconnectedness of things. If you dump some toxic junk out of your boat somewhere upstream on the Skagit River, the effects are felt everywhere downstream. If the mill north of Everett pumps out tons of sulfide stench into the air (as it often did when I was a boy), it doesn’t just stay in the air on the mill’s property. It becomes everybody’s property and you smelled it in south Everett where I lived. If some apparently insignificant seaweed starts to die off in Puget Sound, it can have a catastrophic effect on the salmon, since the little fish who live in the seaweed die off with it and the salmon have nothing to eat.

Seattleites get this concept when it comes to the natural world. They know that it would be crazy to say, “Well, I don’t see the point of this stupid rain forest! Oh sure, some people insist the rain forest is the lungs of the Earth and responsible for recycling vast quantities of carbon dioxide and liberate vast quantities of oxygen. But that’s not my personal truth of the moment. So let’s just rip those lungs out and put in something I’m more comfortable with: like a condo development! I just like the parts of the environment that suit my lifestyle!” As a result of this sane understanding of the facts of nature, Western Washington remains a very beautiful place to live and Washingtonians deserve kudos for their efforts to keep it that way.

However, when it comes to the facts of supernature, Washingtonians often don’t seem to grasp that the Catholic Faith is exactly the same sort of interconnected weave that the environment is. We, like most Americans, treat the Faith in ways we would never dream of treating the planet. The Church proposes a number of things to us as absolutely essential aspects of the revelation Christ handed down to us, and often our response is to casually say, “Well, I don’t see why it matters!” and chuck them aside. Is the Eucharist the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, really present in our midst? We follow the roughly 70% of American Catholics who could not care less. Hey! What possible difference could it make if Jesus Christ himself, fully man and fully God, is offering himself to us in the miraculous exchange of mortality for immortality in the miracle of the Eucharist? What does it matter if we tear the very heart out of the Catholic faith and throw it away?

As it happens, it matters a great deal. If the Eucharist is not Jesus Christ actually present with us in the mystery of loaf and the cup, Catholic faith suffers a mortal wound. For the Church exists because of Jesus Christ, not because of our inexplicable sentimental attachment to fairly flavorless wafers. Eucharist as vital to the Church as the sun is to the rain forest.

A wise man once said that all of human history is divisible into two basic phases: First, we say, “What could it hurt?” Then, sometime later we lament, “How was I supposed to know?” The revelation of Christ is proposed to us, not for us to ransack for the bits we like, but for us to receive in total as a gift, just as we receive the gift he makes of the earth.


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