In August and September of 2020 at the height of the pandemic, we celebrated the Sacraments of First Communion, and Confirmation, four candidates each Sunday, for the five Sundays of August and then the four of September.
At the end of each celebration, we gave each candidate a special cross (see photo). The crosses were made by members of a group called La Pastoral del Medio Ambiente (Earth and Ecology Ministry), in the diocese of Tampico, Mexico, where I currently live and work.
We explained to the newly initiated that these rugged crosses are themselves highly symbolic, in the following ways:
They are made of pieces of tree branches, from trees and forests cut down and cleared for the making of highways, and other infrastructure and land development projects. These projects are all good, urgently needed, and ease life for thousands of families. The problem, of course, is that trees and forests are seldom replaced elsewhere, so as to restore the ecological balance so much needed in our day.
The small white piece of cloth, hung around both sides of the horizontal arm of each cross, represents both the Communion which nourishes us, thanks to the elements of the earth, and the Spirit that gives hope of new or renewed life, after death or destruction, or despondency or depression.
The horizontal and vertical arms of the cross are not just stuck together with glue, they are tied together with twine, indicating that it is each person’s duty to weave together the horizontal—social dimension of the life, with the vertical—spiritual dimension of life, which is the God—human relationship, whether God is considered as the Being of beings, the Ground of Being, the Ultimate Reality, the Beyond in our midst or the Perfect heavenly Father.
Such weaving together helps us to deepen the understanding that the ecological disaster means that, like Jesus, the planet too is being crucified, and ‘bleeds’, or loses oxygen, loses life. And that Christian spirituality, and the care and restoration of the planet, are both dimensions of the one Christian life.
I know, of course, that every now and again, I’ll have to remind post-First Communion and Confirmation children and teenagers, as well as their parents and godparents of the rich symbolism of their faith, of the mysterious bond between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the Kingdom or Reign of God, and of the urgency to take bold steps now to prevent ecological, and therefore also, human disaster.
This is the official logo for the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (CNS photo/courtesy Synod of Bishops)