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Pastoral Letter – 7th December 2008, Second Sunday of Advent

My dear friends,
In just over two weeks, we’ll be celebrating Christmas. We’ll hear afresh the ‘news of great joy’,
the Good News of the God of Love who immersed himself in a new way into the wonder and
beauty of his creation by becoming a human being.
Each year in East Anglia we have a special diocesan theme. From this Advent until next
November, our theme is God’s gift of creation, a creation made new by the incarnation, life,
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The universe was created to express God’s love. All creation belongs to him, and our planet is
only on loan to each generation of human beings. We are part of the interconnected community
of creation, called to work with God as his humble and obedient stewards in caring for all he has
Since the beginning, human greed and selfishness have had a destructive impact on our God-
given environment, and that is more so today than ever before. Our world could all too easily
become a wilderness.
In his homily at Christmas Midnight Mass last year, Pope Benedict reminded his listeners that
Christ ‘came to restore beauty and dignity to creation’, and that Christmas is ‘the feast of restored
creation’. Jesus came to bring the New Creation, ‘the new heavens and the new earth’.
Today is Bible Sunday. Reading the Bible, from the Book of Genesis to the Letters of St Paul,
makes us see all creation as God’s gift, and ourselves as God’s co-workers and stewards in
caring for the ‘holy ground’ on which we live our lives each day.
Pope Benedict reminds us that we celebrate every Mass ‘in the name of all creation’, and that
Christian hope ‘commits us to working responsibly for the protection of creation.’ (Sacramentum Caritatis,
n. 92). Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have both called for an ‘ecological conversion’. Our
hearts and minds, our attitudes and values, must be changed, as well as the way we live.
Care for creation in God’s name is a profoundly spiritual issue. If we are to live truly ‘holy and
saintly lives as we wait for and long for the Day of God to come’, as St Peter asks in today’s
reading, this must include carrying out God’s will for the world he has entrusted to us, and a care
for the earth’s limited resources which are to be shared with all generations.
The call to live simply, justly and sustainably is a central part of this. Care for God’s creation also
includes care for one another and for ourselves, made in the image and likeness of God. The
poor of our world are often the first to be affected by its misuse by the rich.
Our day-to-day decisions and life-styles impact on the earth and its people, today and in the
future. We are responsible for one another, and we cannot approach the earth and its resources
simply as consumers. And so we need to ask ourselves: how can we live simple, responsible
and holy lives on this planet, our God-given home?
We are responsible together for the whole of ‘Planet Earth’. However large the problems can
seem, and however complex the science, we must not ignore what is happening to our
environment. To give one major example, the Amazonian rain forests are an integral and vital
part of our living space as human beings; their ongoing destruction affects us here, just as the
way we live here affects others elsewhere, today and tomorrow.
In our own East Anglia, it can sometimes seem as if Isaiah’s prophecy has already been fulfilled:
‘Every valley has been filled in, every mountain and hill laid low’! We have particular concerns
about threats to our coastlands, the fens, the river floodplains and the Norfolk Broads, as well as
more general ecological and environmental worries. Proposed housing developments across our
region raise serious questions about their likely impact on the environment and on resources,
especially water.
As caretakers rather than owners of creation, it is essential we do all we can to preserve our
resources for future generations, and to take care of this planet entrusted to us by God. We
must find effective ways to address issues such as climate change, the protection of biodiversity,
and the preservation of the earth’s resources. Each of these issues is our concern. We cannot
simply leave it to others. It is our sacred duty as stewards of God.
What more then can we do in our own lives - at home, school, university and work, and in our
parishes - to take better care of our planet? This has to include working together to ensure that
local and national government play their crucial and essential part, and that a global way forward
be found to ensure that the beauty of creation does not become a wilderness.
On the First Sunday of Lent next year, I will invite the whole diocese to join together in renewing
our commitment as Stewards of God in Caring for Creation. The whole Church must be deeply
committed to this work. Pope Benedict has reminded us:
‘One of the fields in which it is urgent to work is most definitely that of safeguarding
creation. The new generations are responsible for the future of the planet… Before it is too
late, we must make courageous choices with a view to a strong alliance between human
beings and the earth. We need a decisive ‘Yes’ to safeguarding creation and a strong
commitment to reverse those tendencies which risk bringing us to a situation of
irreversible degradation.’ (Loreto, 2 September 2007)
When the beauty of God’s creation is threatened, our role as stewards requires us to shout with a
loud voice like Isaiah, and to play our part in protecting and nurturing our planet, not just for
ourselves but for future generations.
This Pastoral Letter can only touch the surface of this vital topic. There are so many questions
left unanswered. There will be diocesan study days available, and more thoughts and ideas
offered, but it is in your homes and parishes that this theme must be taken up. Many of our
Catholics schools are already giving an excellent lead on this.
Each Advent, we await with joyful hope the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and also ‘the
new heavens and the new earth’ he promises. Jesus Christ is Lord of the Cosmos, and we are
not fit to kneel before him. Through him all things were made, and through him all things will be
made new. And yet he lifts us up, pours the Holy Spirit upon us, and seeks to work in and
through each of us as the Restorer of Creation. As we dedicate ourselves to being faithful
stewards of God’s creation, let us make our own this prayer from the Roman Missal:
God our Father, open our eyes to see your hand at work
in the splendour of creation, in the beauty of human life.
Touched by your hand, our world is holy.
Help us to cherish the gifts that surround us,
to share your blessings with our brothers and sisters,
and to experience the joy of life in your presence. (17th Sunday of the Year)

Bishop of East Anglia

(In addition to reading aloud this Pastoral Letter at each Mass, I invite parish priests to duplicate copies and make them
available for people to take home with them and for group discussion. Many thanks.)