Receive the World as God's Gift ...
Under Napoleon’s reign in 1804 the pedestrian bridge known as the “Pont des Arts” was completed across the River Seine. The bridge of nine arches was the first metallic bridge in Paris.
The bridge engineers conceived that the bridge would resemble a suspended garden, with trees, banks of flowers, and benches and in 1975 the Pont des Arts became a national historic monument.
But, in June 2014 it was reported that a part of the protective iron grid for pedestrians had collapsed, and in June 2015 reconstruction of the bridge was announced due to growing concern of more collapse.
Most unfamiliar with this story would assume that the original design was faulty or that the original materials were poorly chosen. But this is not the case. In short, the bride collapsed due to misuse.
How can a bridge be “misused”? Simple. Add 45 tons (90,000 lbs) of metal to the bridge that it was never designed to hold and watch it begin to buckle under the weight.
Who would do such a foolish thing? Again, simple, people; and not just a few, no, hundreds of thousands of people.
Why would they do such a thing to a national treasure? Well, believe it or not, it was all done “innocently” in the name of love.
In 2008 couples began to attach padlocks – or “lovelocks” — with their names on them to the railing of the bridge and throw the keys into the river as a romantic gesture of their committed love.
Two years ago French officials estimated that there were over 700,000 locks; creating a serious safety concern for city authorities and shortly thereafter the first break in the bridge occurred.
What does this story have to do with St. Francis? Not much. Except this: The 200 year-old account of the Pont des Arts bridge is an excellent example for our students during this Lenten season.
Pope Francis has called us consider our stewardship of the earth and its resources and, like the bridge, there is an intentional and designed use for those resources.
When we misuse those resources – even in our innocent enjoyment of life – we tip the intended balance and we can cause severe damage.
As we focus on stewardship issues of over Lent, let us consider the words of Dominique Rey in his book, Catholicism, Ecology and the Environment: A Bishop’s Reflection:
In the creation of man in the image and likeness of God, we find the beginning of Christian morality … to rule the earth with wisdom, man must first receive the world as God’s gift, recognize and respect the order wanted and imprinted by him within creation … exploitation of natural resources has clearly drifted away from God’s original design. (emphasis added)