Ecologist Fr. John McCarthy finds no separation between the secular and divine. Photo courtesy of John McCarthy

Ecologist finds God in all creation

By  Maria Di Paolo, Catholic Register Special
  • October 18, 2014

Fr. John McCarthy has a love of nature that goes back to his early childhood. When he joined the Jesuits, his novice master recognized that his interest in the natural world was profound and encouraged him to make time for it in his priestly life. He has and on a grand scale. 

McCarthy has spent most of his career working as a forest ecologist in his native Newfoundland. So, when he goes for a walk or when he looks out of a window at a distant horizon, it isn’t surprising that he sees the world just a little differently. 

Do Monkeys Go to Heaven? is a series of short reflections on faith and the natural world inspired by simple incidents in McCarthy’s life. For McCarthy, the secular and divine worlds are one and the same, impossible to separate. Our ecological crisis cannot be solved by technology, science or economics if we don’t have a profound belief in the value, the sacredness of what we are trying to save. We need to be able to find God in all creation. 

These reflections have been organized over a calendar year, by season. Many are inspired by a simple thought or experience. 

“Why are the forests green?” McCarthy asks and then goes on to explain the wonder of photosynthesis and reflects on the first creation story and the place of plants in all of creation. 

Spawning salmon remind McCarthy of the Pascal mystery, how life comes from death as the salmon return to their ancestral streams to give birth to another generation before they die. In dying they also become food and sustenance for other creatures and life goes on anew. 

Sunlight streaming through a stained glass window brings to mind the rainbow and God’s covenant with all of creation. A Christmas tree in the dead of winter is witness to our belief in the secret hint of the light to come. 

Not all is warm and cozy, because terrible things do happen, like earthquakes and tsunamis. God’s creatures die. But the Earth is active and ever changing and earthquakes and seismic faults all are part of the Earth we call home. 

So, do monkeys go to heaven? Before giving his answer McCarthy reflects on our Christian understanding of the difference between heaven and Earth. 

Do we sometimes worry too much about heaven and not enough about the Earth? Is our focus on heaven and the soul negating the body, Earth and the natural world? Are heaven, humans and our own salvation the only things that are important in the end? What about the Word made flesh, the incarnation, the Holy Spirit active in all of creation and the fulfillment of all creation in the Trinity? 

I will not spoil the suspense, but it is worth pondering and the answer will undoubtedly affect how we understand our relationship with the natural world. 

McCarthy’s reflections are thoughtful and thought provoking. The book is short and an easy read. However, I think the benefit of it will be not so much in the words as in the thought that it provokes. It will inspire readers to their own reflections on the natural world around them and our relationship with it. 

(di Paolo is a Toronto freelance writer.) 

Do Monkeys Go To Heaven?: Finding God in All of Creation by John McCarthy S.J. (Novalis, soft cover, 128 pages, $12.95).

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