Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—28 June AD
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
We know that all creation groans and
travails in pain until now.”
But “creation itself also will be delivered from its slavery to corruption
into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.”
In this morning’s epistle, Saint Paul
makes this statement, about which we hear very little or nothing in our
catechisms, or even in the works of Church Fathers and theologians. In
speaking about “all creation groaning” because of “slavery to
corruption,” he suggests that not only human beings, but also the animals,
the flowers, and even the rocks are somehow aware of the damage done to all of
God’s creation by sin. To modern people that may suggest that Paul
believed that all things have the sort of consciousness that we attribute only
to humans, and in a small degree to the higher animals. We can attribute
“groaning” and “travailing” to men and women, dogs and cats, rabbits and
raccoons, but we have a great deal of trouble imagining any kind of suffering at
all in the rocks or the flowers, or the sea or the sky.
That may be why so little is written
about this epistle: It almost sounds as though Saint Paul were lapsing
into the error of pantheism. To the pantheist the whole universe
has a soul; and every little bit of it possess a portion of that soul.
For example, among those of the Hindu religion, every creature is sacred because
it shares a bit of that “world‑soul”—given that error, the cows are
sacred, the monkeys are sacred, and even the mosquitoes are sacred.
But Saint Paul isn’t falling into that
false philosophy. He is reminding us of the way God revealed Himself in
the Old Testament—He is reminding us that God made all creation as a
reflection of Himself. Man He created, “male and female He created them
... in His own image and likeness. The lesser created things—those below
the angels and man—are subject to human dominion, but they were created “to
show forth God’s goodness in this world.”
The Psalms and the canticles of the Old
Testament are filled with references to God providing the good things of nature:
(Jeremias 31:12) They shall give praise in mount Sion ... for the
corn, and wine, and oil, and the increase of cattle and herds, and their soul
shall be as a watered garden, and they shall be hungry no more.
146: 8-9) God covers the
heaven with clouds, and prepares rain for the earth. God makes grass to grow
on the mountains, and herbs for the service of men. God gives to beasts
their food: and to the young ravens that call upon him.
(Psalm 103:) 10
Thou send forth springs in the valleys ...: 11 All the beasts of the field shall
drink.... 12 Over them the birds of the air shall dwell: from the midst of the
rocks they shall give forth their voices. 13 Thou water the hills from thine
upper rooms: the earth shall be filled with the fruit of thy works: 14 Bringing
forth grass for cattle, and herb for the service of men. That thou mayst bring
bread out of the earth: 15 And that wine may cheer the heart of man. That he may
make the face cheerful with oil: and that bread may strengthen man's heart.
19 He has made the moon for seasons: the sun knows his going down.
20 Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night: in it shall all the beasts of
the woods go about:
The Old Testament also reveals God making use of nature on
behalf of His people:
10 He inclined the heavens and came down
* with dark clouds under His feet. 11 He mounted a cherub and flew, *
borne on the wings of the wind. 12 And He made darkness the cloak about
Him; * dark, misty rain clouds His wrap. 13 From the brightness of His
presence * coals were kindled to flame. 14 And the Lord thundered from
heaven; * the Most High gave forth His voice; 15 He sent forth His arrows
to put them to flight, * with frequent lightnings He routed them. 16 Then
the bed of the sea appeared, * and the foundations of the world were laid bare,
17 At the rebuke of the Lord, * at the blast of the wind of His wrath.
18 He reached out from on high and grasped me; * He drew me out of the deep waters.
19 He rescued me from my mighty enemy....
20 They attacked me in the day
of my calamity, * but the Lord came to my support.
Writing from a dungeon in Babylon, the prophet Daniel wrote
about three young men who were thrown into a fiery furnace to punish them for
their belief in God alone. They were completely protected from the flames
and sung a beautiful hymn, invoking all of creation to praise God:
(Daniel 3: 57-88) • Bless the Lord, all you
works of the Lord, * praise and exalt Him above all forever. • Angels
of the Lord, bless the Lord.... • All you waters above the heavens,
bless the Lord.... • Sun and moon ,,, stars of heaven, bless the
Lord. • Every shower and dew ... all you winds ... fire and heat
... cold and chill ... dew and rain, frost and cold, bless the Lord.
• Ice and snow, bless the Lord; * nights and days ... light and darkness
... lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord. -- • Let the earth bless
the Lord, * praise and exalt Him above all forever. • Mountains and
hills, bless the Lord.... • You springs ... seas and rivers ... you
dolphins, and all water creatures ... all you birds of the air ... all you
beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord; * praise and exalt Him above all forever.
• You sons of men ... servants of the Lord, bless the Lord.... • Blessed
art Thou, O Lord, in the firmament of heaven, * praiseworthy and glorious
This is the tradition in which Saint Paul writes
today—the tradition in which all of creation reflects God’s glory. He
writes, also knowing that whatever damage was done to creation by sin would be
righted by the Redemption, and repaired on the Last Day. As God spoke
through the prophet Isaias (and later through Saint Peter and Saint John):
16 because the former distresses are
forgotten, and because they are hid from My eyes. 17 For behold I create new
heavens, and a new earth: and the former things shall not be in remembrance, and
they shall not come upon the heart.
Today’s Gospel reminds us again of the dominion of God
over nature. At the word of Jesus the fish fill the nets of the Apostles
to the breaking point; so many fish that “the boats began to sink”!
And seeing Jesus and the Apostles in the boat, who can help remembering the time
when Jesus calmed the wind and the sea, so that they might not perish.
Or, perhaps. the more spectacular event when Jesus had to walk on the water to
reach the boat, enabled even Peter to walk briefly on the water, and then again
calmed the wind and the sea.
Modernists often try to pass off Jesus’ miracles as
merely psychosomatic cures. Well, psychosomatic is one thing, but
convincing the fish to fill the net is quite something else—a feat that the
best psychiatrists have yet to duplicate. After that, they will have to
start talking to the wind and the sea!
There is an important moral lesson to be learned from these
readings today. One of the great errors of modern times is the idea
that for something to be sinful it must hurt another human being. This false
notion goes something like this: “If my actions hurt only me, there is
no sin; if my wife and my family give consent to my violating their
rights, there is no sin; if society doesn’t care what I do, there is no
This notion is false on three counts: The most
obvious is that God has given us His moral law by way of
Commandments—violation of the first three of these Commandments is a sin
directly against God—no human beings have to be hurt at all in violating them,
but they are still sins against God’s law. Indeed, all violations of His
law are sins against Him, no matter who is not hurt, does not know, or does not
Secondly, all sin hurts the people around us in some way.
The wife who excuses her husband’s trash mouth, or his lying, or his cheating
may not feel hurt, but the husband will still impair the integrity of those at
whom he curses, those to whom he lies, and the woman with whom he cheats.
The society that does not care about abortion and contraception; which
countenances fraud and theft in its own workings; which ignores the rights of
other societies; and which denies the role of God in its affairs is destined to
collapse—hurting many of its innocent members.
And, finally, as we see today. Sin impairs all
creation. I am not talking about questionably scientific, politically
motivated, problems like “global warming” or the “ozone hole.”
Rather, sin hurts all of creation by making it less fit to perform the duty for
which God created it—“to show forth His goodness in this life.”
Without sin, God will use the forces of nature for our protection; Without
sin, the grain and the wine and the oil will abound; Without sin, we will be
able to hear the sun and the wind, the cold and the dew, the birds and the
beasts proclaiming the praises of God. Without sin, perhaps, the fishes
will jump directly into the boat—we can only wait and see.
“We know that all creation groans and travails in pain
until now.” But “creation itself also will be delivered from its
slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.”
We await the “new heaven and the new earth”
of the Prophet Isaias, Saint Peter, and Saint John—but even now, we can
restore and refine the earth by our own virtue and holiness.