Spring is in full bloom, and we continue to celebrate spiritual renewal in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Hopefully we are all emerging, like the groundhog, from our burrows, and no longer seeing long shadows of fear as we have over the last two years. The trees bud and the flowers are growing. We can almost hear the longing of all creation of which St. Paul speaks (Rom 8:19-23), waiting for God’s beloved children to accept our call to bring new life to the world.

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola invites us to find God’s presence in all things: “All things of this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know Him more surely, and serve Him more faithfully.”

When we open ourselves to encounter God in the created and the ordinary, the more we are drawn to express the joy at his presence that can lead others to him. In Laudato Sí, Pope Francis echoes his spiritual father: “Creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illumined by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” (76)

Finding God in all creation is, therefore, an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. But doesn’t it beg the questions often expressed by those who have disaffiliated from the Church – “If I can find God in creation, why do I need to go to Church? Can’t I just worship God in the park or at the beach?”

Those who think this way are missing an essential component. Our experience of God in nature is a gift intended to draw us together. If we stop at the natural experience of God, then we fail to fulfill its purpose and understand its greater meaning. St. Ignatius finishes the quote above by saying, “We ought to appreciate and use these gifts of God insofar as they help us toward our goal of loving service and union with God. But insofar as created things hinder our progress toward our goal, we ought to let them go.”

In other words, the experience of God in the created world, when properly understood, should engender in us a longing, a pull, to gather together in worship and praise of God’s goodness. In short, it should make us want to go to Mass. There together we present God with the fruit of the earth and the work of our hands, anticipating and awaiting his true presence in the Eucharist.

The Mass is the time and place where Heaven and earth unite most perfectly. Doesn’t it make sense for us to bring our joy and excitement of being outside in the warm sun and clear air – after what seems like forever – and offer it back to God in worship, gratitude and praise?

Following are some tips for bringing together God’s presence in nature with his presence in worship and service:

  • Bring a bouquet of flowers to church and place it at the altar of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph or a special saint.
  • Start a prayer garden at your parish. If there already is one, make regular use of it.
  • Plant some fruits and vegetable at home or with others and share the produce with a local soup kitchen or food-insecurity program.
  • Learn and pray the Canticle of the Sun, written by St. Francis of Assisi.
  • Make the Spiritual Exercises as a family.Here’s a child-friendly guide: godinallthings.com/2012/07/31/ignatian-spirituality-for-kids/.

Mark Russoniello is director of religious education in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.