Francis: Caring for the earth a thank-you note to God

Recycling an aluminum can. Planting new trees. Flipping off the light switch. All can act as thank-you notes to God.

So said Pope Francis, who delivered that message Wednesday during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square before more than 50,000 people.

“Custody of creation is custody of God’s gift to us and it is also a way of saying thank you to God. I am the master of creation but to carry it forward I will never destroy your gift,” he said.

The message came as part of an address on creation and the gift of knowledge. Francis said knowledge, a gift of the Holy Spirit, extends beyond human knowledge and “allows us, through creation, the greatness and love of God and his profound relationship with every creature.”

Likewise, the pope said the beginning of Genesis shows God delighted in creation, ending each day describing it as good.

“But if God sees that creation is something good and beautiful, we too must have this attitude, we must see that creation is something good and beautiful,” Francis said.

Through knowledge, humans, too, can recognize the beauty of creation, but also “avoid falling prey to excessive or incorrect attitudes,” the pope said, among them man viewing themselves as masters of the earth.

"Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude," he said. 

Instead, Francis continued, humans are “custodians [of] creation, not masters of creation. It is a gift that the Lord has given us, to us! We are custodians of creation. But when we exploit creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying creation we are saying to God: 'I don’t like it!. This is not good!' 'So what do you like?' 'I like myself!' -- Here, this is sin!”

The attitude toward creation as a gift leads toward safeguarding creation, “because if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us! Never forget this!” he said, adding that while God always forgives, Creation never does -- “And if you don’t custody creation it will never forgive you."

“This should give us pause for thought and ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of knowledge that creation is a gift from God, a gift for the best thing He created which is the human person,” he said.

Read the pope’s full address at the Vatican’s news site

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]