Log in
    
Stephanie Clary

Stephanie Clary

Stephanie Clary is the Mission Outreach and Communication Coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. She is currently pursuing a Master’s research degree in Catholic Systematic Theology from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago. Her particular research interests include ecotheology and cinematic theology. She lives in Colchester Vermont with her husband, Matt, and golden retriever, Finnegan. Website URL:

Behold God's glory

There is a YouTube video of a child “playing Mass” during which 3-year-old Isaiah exuberantly exclaims, “Behold!” as he holds up the “host” and “chalice.” After tinkering around on the “altar” for a bit, he seems to forget his place, so he grabs the “host” and “chalice” again, raises them in the air, and exclaims, “Behold!” with no less enthusiasm than the first time.
 
After watching Isaiah’s “Mass,” I noticed the priest at a Mass I attended paused for an uncharacteristically long time after this same part of the Eucharistic liturgy. Perhaps it was Isaiah who led me to notice this small nuance in the celebration in which I’d participated countless times. Though more subtly than the child’s shrill voice and blatant repetition, the priest was encouraging us to truly behold that which existed in our presence — to recognize Christ in our midst.
 
Aside from the occasional shuffling about in the pew and wandering thoughts, I like to think most of us are pretty good at beholding Christ’s presence during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Even when our minds sometimes stray from the sacrament, the context of Mass tends to pull us back relatively quickly. This is important. As Pope Francis says, “It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
By recognizing Christ in our midst in the Eucharist, we are spurred to Christ-like action in our lives.
 
The Holy Father continues, “[The Lord] comes that we might find Him in this world of ours” (“Laudato Si’”). We humans are gifted with an incredible ability to behold the world around us with contemplation, meaningfulness and intention, to discover Christ — God — “in this world of ours” and respond appropriately. With the living Christ, Jesus, as example, we are called to recognize goodness, love, life, beauty and sacredness in the created world because it is of God and reflects God’s glory.
 
“Behold!” the indwelling of God in a mountain range ablaze with autumn colors.
 
“Behold!” the Creator Spirit igniting life in the womb.
 
“Behold!” intelligent design in the ecosystem of the forest.
 
“Behold!” the loving face of God in the stranger reaching out for a friend.
 
“Behold!” the faithful commitment of a family traveling for Mass.
 
“Behold!” the example of Christ in the volunteer selflessly serving the people.
 
We disregard the significance and power of this ability to behold when we do not respond appropriately to the presence of God in our lives. Beyond just gazing upon the world and moving through it, beholding requires us to fully be present, appreciative and receptive to God in our midst.
 
Augustine once exhorted his people, “You can read what Moses wrote [in scripture]; in order to write it, what did Moses read, a man living in time? Observe heaven and earth in a religious spirit.” I think that’s a pretty good definition of what it means to behold. If we observe heaven and earth — which is the biblical way to say “everything” — in a religious spirit, it is difficult to miss God dwelling “in this world of ours,” not only in moments of wonder and awe, but also in moments that are seemingly insignificant and trivial: a chaotic family dinner between math team, soccer practice and piano lessons; a restless night of studying for a desired degree; a mundane drive to work along the waterfront.
 
I find young Isaiah’s enthusiastic “Behold!” echoing in my mind whenever I experience a vivid scene of God’s presence. In the moments when it feels like God is absent, I look a little harder. Just like Isaiah, sometimes we forget what we’re doing and get a little lost. It is in precisely those moments that it’s most important to grasp on to Christ’s presence and truly behold.
 
--Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

In the likeness of God

The human, unlike other creations, is distinctly made in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26-27). Though we can forever discuss exactly what that means, I propose that at least part of what that means is that in a way which is far more complex than in any other creature, the self-aware human being possesses the ability to make decisions informed by reflecting on the past and reasoning through the possible future. The presence of the human within the rest of the created world makes a huge difference because human beings can know the effect of our own existence.
 
What effect is humanity having on creation right now? No human has made a greater impact on the world of life (and death) than the Spirit made flesh, the human being called Jesus of Nazareth. Some may argue that glorifying all creation diminishes the significance of the Incarnation in the form of human flesh. But, the significance of the Incarnation is in no way lessened by glorifying all creation. In
fact, employing the capacities for reflection and self awareness that are indicative of humanity, we see that the Incarnation of God as human further supports glorifying creation in its entirety.
 
The Word made flesh manifested itself in the specific flesh of the human, but that human did not exist in a vacuum. That human existed in and among and in relation to the rest of the created world. Jesus “was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it attention full of fondness and wonder” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
By stating that God became human, one states that God became part of the intricate
web of life that exists on this planet and in which humanity takes part. God became
subject to the ecosystems and relationships of this world — whether they were in right relation or whether they were crooked, broken and disturbed. “One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross” (“Laudato Si’”). Not only did God dwell among creation, but in the person of Jesus Christ, God became embedded in the genetic, scientific history of life on this planet.
 
Pope Francis reflects on the cosmic significance of Christ as exemplified in the Eucharist: “The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to
reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter … he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist … is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life…. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. ... Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation
for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
Motivated by our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and in the world, we must utilize our unique, human “capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility” (“Laudato Si’”) to have an effect on the world that is truly life-giving. Being made in the image and likeness of God demands nothing less.
 

Restoring Right Relation

Often, Christians find Pope Francis’ promotion of integral ecology at odds with the biblical command to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures. Yet, a careful look at the Book of Genesis offers much to consider in regard to relationships among creation and how God intended creation to exist.

Ecologically-relevant verses are found throughout scripture, but as Pope Francis asserts in “Laudato Si’,” there is reason to start at the beginning: “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality.”

“Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth” (Gn 1:28). Upon an uncritical reading, this verse seems to support human control over non-human creation. But, when placed in context with other biblical narratives, the verse no longer reads as a God-given mandate for human superiority. A critical look at the words from which “subdue” and “dominion” are translated paired with awareness of how these words are used elsewhere in scripture yields a different interpretation.

Elsewhere in scripture, the word translated into English as “subdue” describes cultivation of land and preparation of space for worship. There is great significance in this interpretative shift from subdue as meaning to overpower and control to subdue as meaning to cultivate for sustainability and ease of worship. Knowing this broader biblical context allows for reconsideration of the way in which humanity is asked to interact with non-human creation. Instead of exercising superiority over the earth with exploitation and destruction, humanity is called to cultivate a sustainable living space that allows for worship of God.

The word translated as “dominion” can also support a holistic, interconnected and mutually-dependent relationship among creation when the command to “have dominion” is considered in conjunction with scripture stories that elaborate upon its meaning. For example, the story of the great flood shows humanity tasked with “dominion” of creation.

Humanity must ensure survival of all.

Considered within this context, “dominion” transforms from a word conveying a relationship of domination and control into a word conveying a relationship of care, concern and respect. The survival of non-human creation is prioritized not because of any value or benefit it holds for humanity but simply because all creation is of God and deserves to live. Furthermore, when considered within the context of the great flood story, God’s command to humans about the relationship between human and non-human creation does not present a passive relationship, where human and non-human creation merely coexist, or even a relationship in which humans consciously refrain from destroying or harming non-human creation. What God’s command calls for is conscious, compassionate action on the part of humanity to see to the survival, livelihood and flourishing of non-human creation. This is quite a big responsibility, of which the failure to fulfill has disastrous consequences.

Pope Francis reflects, “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole [is] disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God.” When humans act as if humanity is other than creation instead of an integral part of it, all of creation suffers, including humans. 

He continues, “Responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world. ... The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings.”

Creation was designed in a way that allows it to survive, to grow, to adapt, to flourish!

The human, in the image and likeness of God and as part of that design, is called to cultivate creation for life and worship (subdue) and ensure its ongoing survival (have dominion). While this relationship between human and non-human creation (and God) is often abused — even ruptured — reconciliation, a return to right relation, is always possible.

As demonstrated by the story of the great flood and exclaimed by Pope Francis, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________
This article was originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.

Catholic Schools Care for Creation

In response to Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne's call for a Year of Creation focused on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home," Catholic schools in Vermont immediately sprang to action planning a statewide day of creation education, action and prayer. On April 12, each Catholic school participated in Catholic Schools Care for Creation Day. Initiatives included immediate tasks and long-term projects.
 
Responding to the call to care for creation is part of the Catholic schools’ mission “to instill faith values in students and to create a desire to make a positive difference in the world.” Some schools began the day of service with Mass or another form of prayer. Others read and reflected upon quotes from “Laudato Si’” throughout the day. It was important for students to understand that this day wasn’t just in service to the world, but to their neighbors and to God as well.
 
“Care for creation is a matter of social justice because the ones who are most affected by pollution and climate change are the poor of the world,” Bishop Coyne said. “I hope many Catholics will take advantage of the opportunities being offered throughout the diocese to celebrate this Year of Creation.”
 
Vermont Catholic schools emphatically embraced the opportunity to spend some extra time beholding God’s creation and ensuring that it remains bountiful for generations to come.
 
Read about each school’s Care for Creation Day projects below. For more about the Year of Creation: vermontcatholic.org/yearofcreation.
 
Students at St. Monica-St. Michael School in Barre learned about reusing and recycling materials with an eco-fashion show, where students designed and modeled clothing creations made from materials found in recycle bins. As part of an ongoing project, students planted seeds in recyclable containers that will later be transferred to the school garden. Once in the earth, the seedlings will grow into food that sustains bodies. Students and their families share in the cultivation, growth, harvest and consumption.
 
Students at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington used old newspapers to create biodegradable flower vases. The potted plants will be gifted to elderly individuals in the area and can be placed directly into the ground.
 
Everyone who attends St. Michael School in Brattleboro was encouraged to use sustainable transportation on April 12. Many walked, biked or carpooled to school. Members of the school community worked together on waste reduction strategies that could be implemented, with specific grades focusing on recycling and compost efficiency. Other grades focused on area beautification with litter pick-up and gardening. Others created an awareness and education bulletin board for visitors and as a reminder for everyone at the school.
 
Each classroom at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville has prominent recycle and compost bins with a smaller trash bin alongside them. The school no longer provides single-use plastic straws or water bottles. There are water-bottle filling stations for reusable water bottles. Lunch trays are biodegradable. All of this is part of the school’s ongoing sustainability efforts.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Rutland led a prayer service designed to help people understand how they can contribute to ecological justice. Throughout the year, students will work with Marble Valley Grows to plant a garden and participate in tastings to promote the Farm to School programs. They will also learn about and begin a composting program for the lunch room.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Burlington and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland spent their mornings cleaning up local parks and beautifying creation for area residents to enjoy.
 
Good Shepherd Catholic School in St. Johnsbury recently received a grant that allows them to begin construction on an outdoor nature classroom. After “greening up” the local area on April 12, students and staff gathered in the gym to plant seeds. Later in the spring, flower seedlings will be donated to the local eldercare home and vegetable seedlings to the community garden. Some of each will be reserved to plant in the outdoor nature classroom upon its completion.
 
Students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington helped to return the local ecosystem to balance by removing invasive species from a trail on school grounds and cultivating the land for new growth. Money collected from a dress-down day on the April 12 was donated to Pure Water for the World, a Rutland-based non-profit dedicated to sustainable, safe water solutions.
 
At St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski, students learned about the impact of separating food waste and began implementing a compost program in their cafeteria and classrooms.
 
  • Published in Schools
Subscribe to this RSS feed
Bishop's Fund Annual Appeal