At this time of the year we give thanks for the Harvest and the fruits of the Earth. The word Eucharist (the formal name for The Mass) actually comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving (ϵύχαριστία) and this reminds us that in our loving relationship with God, the principal prayer-form by which we express our love is Giving Thanks (saying Thank You) for all the good things he has given us, including life itself and also the fruits of the earth and sea which we call our harvest – our food, to sustain that life.
When selected bishops from around the world gathered in Rome for one of their periodic synods at which they discussed how better to inspire and guide the youth of the world as we face together the challenges of the 21st century. There was, of course, much soul searching about what had gone wrong in the past, but thankfully there was also a great deal of positive thinking about the way forward, particularly in the area of sustainable stewardship of the planet onto which we were born – a subject very strongly promoted by Pope Francis himself, not only in many talks and sermons but particularly in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si’. Commencing with the heading “nothing in this world is indifferent to us” the pope goes on to specify the areas of particular concern and to appeal for a change of heart – a change in attitude – seeking particular inspiration from the preaching and wisdom of his own patron St Francis of Assisi.
This document – published as a booklet – goes on to debate the problems and benefits which spring from modern technology, ecological studies and the reality of excess, wastage and shortage (even famine) both now and as predicted for the future. It is sobering stuff…
So how do we bring all this together? In many ways it could be said to be fairly simple because each of these aspects of life relates closely to the others. We need above all cooperation to move forward; and yet it is within that area of cooperation which we call politics that we have to acknowledge so many difficulties.
So now we give thanks for the harvest – and the harvest is a central element of the Pope’s campaign expressed in Laudato si’. He encourages world leaders to produce the necessities of life, such as food, energy, house-building and infrastructure, in a way that respects the environment and ensures that we look after our planet in a sustainable way, so that its resources are not exhausted by our own generation to the detriment of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And closely linked to that crucial principle is his concern for the well-being of families which was, as you know, the central theme of this Synod on youth.
For the responsible conduct of farming and fisheries and the preservation of our planet from pollution, global warming and such hazards as de-forestation and irresponsible development and exploitation, are as crucial to the well-being of families as is the very basic necessity for a harvest of sufficient food.
So to summarise this message, let us remind ourselves of what I am sure you know already, that the speed and energy and pollution and wastefulness of the way so many of us live these days is putting a great strain on God’s beautiful planet Earth.
Getting back into a better balance between a good standard of living and a more sustainable use of earth’s resources, and a fairer sharing of them, is going to be a big issue during the life time of us all and has indeed become so already. It is possible for each one of us to contribute towards easing, if not solving, the problem (for example, I am told that in this country we throw away almost one third of all the food we buy, often because we don’t manage our ‘use by’ dates efficiently).
Some say that most of our current children can expect to live to be 100. The message for them on this day of a Family Harvest Thanksgiving Mass is that if they hope to be coming to church with their great-grandchildren to give thanks to God for a rich and successful harvest in the year 2100, they should start thinking seriously about sustainability now – because not all resources are recoverable once lost. Perhaps we could all resolve today to tweak our lifestyles in a way that makes life no less enjoyable but much more responsible.