World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation
To help us celebrate Pope Francis’ Care of Creation day and to accompany us on our journey to the feast of St Francis, Carmody Grey offers us some thought and reflections to stimulate us in our reading and re-reading of Laudato Si’ and help move us and our communities – whether that be family, neighbourhood, or parish – into action.
Join us each as we embrace the challenge to be a people who cherish the gift of creation and seek to wonder in the blessing of God around us.
Laudato Si’ – a message of hope
22 September 2017
Laudato Si’ is a message of hope. Faith in Christ is never compatible with despair. No matter how bleak things seem as we witness our natural environment deteriorate, Christians can only approach the future with trust. Catholic tradition is fundamentally positive about human nature, and Pope Francis invites us to trust not only in God, but also in the resource, energy and above all the goodness of human beings. We do have the ability to shape a beautiful future for the earth and its inhabitants. It will not be without cost, but we can do it.
But hope is not the same as optimism, and Laudato Si’ – like all messages of true prophecy – is a word of judgement as well as mercy. God’s Yes to our world is often expressed in a No – a No to things that diminish and impoverish his gifts. For us too, saying Yes to this world in all its beauty means questioning things that damage that world. Pope Francis has harsh words for what he calls our ‘throwaway culture’: the carelessness and indifference born of materialism and consumerism. As he says, ‘environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked’.
Laudato Si’ has a special word of judgement for ‘the technocratic paradigm’. This is a way of thinking which sees nature as a mute and inert thing which exists only for us to shape it to our will. It leads us to believe that more technological power, more economic growth, is always good, because the only agenda is ourselves. But ‘a technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.’
Technological and economic change are in themselves neutral. What makes them good or bad is the use to which they are put, the end they serve. There is a dangerous utopianism in the ‘technocratic paradigm’: it imagines that market growth and technological development can solve all our problems and bring us the happiness and fulfilment we long for. But for Christians, the ecological crisis is not a purely practical one. It is first of all a spiritual and moral crisis, and the practical response must come from a conversion of heart, a new way of thinking.
Question for reflection
Do I place an undue trust in money and technology to solve problems, whether my own or society’s? Do I acknowledge that my heart, too, needs converting to a loving respect of the earth, which does not belong to me alone, but to all human beings and to God above all?
Nature is not outside of human society, human society is not outside of nature
15 September 2017
People often refer to Laudato Si’ as an ‘environmental encyclical’. When someone described it in that way to Pope Francis, he corrected them forcefully. It is not an ‘environmental encyclical’, he said, but a social encyclical. This may seem surprising, silly even, since the document is obviously about nature, ecology and environmentalism.
But Pope Francis’ correction contains, in a way, the whole message of the document. Nature is not outside of human society. Human society is not outside of nature.
Our culture has got very accustomed to thinking of ‘humanity’ and ‘nature’ as opposites. But the Catholic tradition has never thought about the world this way. For us, there is not ‘nature’ and ‘humanity’, but just one reality: creation. And all of creation is personal, because every particle of it comes from the heart of the divine Logos.
Accordingly, one of the most oft-repeated refrains in Laudato Si’ is: everything is connected. This is a sentiment people often associate with Eastern spiritualities. But they should look again at the Western tradition, for the Christian faith holds to this truth with absolute conviction. We believe that the world has a single origin, a single destiny. A single redeemer, a single sanctifier. And it has one glorious meaning which permeates its entire existence in time and space: the love of God.
Pope Francis asks us to make this reality, encountered in prayer, to colour the whole of our life. To see all the ‘natural’ phenomena around us not as something apart from ourselves, but something we are joined with in the great journey of salvation.
But this beautiful truth has a sharp side: there is no action that does not affect the whole, even if no human being appears to be involved in it. Burying millions of tonnes of nuclear waste deep in the deserts where no-one will ever find them. Littering the deep sea. The disappearance of some obscure little beetle none of us have ever heard of.
But no-one ever goes to that desert, we think. No-one lives in the deep sea. And aren’t there enough beetles already? Will one species more or less really make a difference?
Even if we cannot measure that difference, the answer always yes: it does make a difference.
We cannot be indifferent towards ‘nature’. We share a common destiny. And our actions toward it always have consequences: spiritual, moral, material.
Question for Reflection:
Do I make myself accountable for the impact my life has on the natural world around me – even when I cannot see the effects of my actions?
Where in my life should my sense of accountability be more acute? (Shopping? Transport? Holidays? Recycling? My responsibilities as a citizen to vote and to participate in local and national decision-making?)
Solidarity: The Earth Belongs to All
8 September 2017
One of the most important clues to Laudato Si’ is in the sub-title: it calls us to Care for Our Common Home. This may seem obvious, platitudinous even, but this “our” is crucial to the deeper meaning of the teaching.
One of the principles of the Church’s social teaching is ‘Solidarity’. Solidarity means that another’s good is my own, another’s suffering is my own. This is fundamental to Christian belief: in Christ, there is a deep unity to the human race. We share a common origin, a common destiny. Whether I know it or not, I am impacted by what happens to every other person on earth: their flourishing, their diminishment.
In Laudato Si, the Pope invites us to recognise two particular dimensions to this solidarity.
Firstly, he asks us to acknowledge that this earth is the home of every human being, wealthy or poor, powerful or powerless. In treating the earth we are treating something that belongs to other people. It never belongs to me, to my community, to my country alone. It is as though we were all sharing the use of a common house. We need to live in that house on the basis of shared ownership.
Secondly, within that shared ownership there is a certain group of people who have a special claim: the poor. Although the earth belongs equally to all, there is a preferential option for those who have less, because environmental change affects them more directly. The poor have no protection against unexpected changes in food or water supply, or extreme climatic events. They lack safety nets. For Pope Francis, the earth belongs to all equally – but within that equality, the poor take first place.
The Pope is asking us to assume a level of responsibility, as citizens and consumers, which few of us are fully prepared for. He demands of us an unflinching honesty: a willingness to see how our choices in food, clothing, holidays, transport, etc. have an impact vastly beyond the circle of those we know. He condemns the wilful blindness of those who turn away from this global responsibility.
Care for creation is not a pious ideal. It is a concrete moral requirement. Environmentalism is not a sentimental reverence for nature; it is a duty we owe to each other, and to the vulnerable above all.
To accept it requires courage. Courage to recognise that environmental depletion and degradation, wherever it occurs, is my problem. Our problem. Not their problem.
Question For Reflection:
How do I feel about the responsibility Pope Francis is asking me to assume? Reluctant? Resentful? Grateful? In which areas of my life will it be most difficult to practice? What initial steps can I take to help myself, and others?
A Spirituality of Creation
1 September 2017
Catholics are slowly getting accustomed to the idea that the care of creation is part of our religious responsibility. We understand that we are custodians of creation, that we have a sacred responsibility to steward it according to God’s purposes. Even so, it is hard to shake the habit of thinking of the natural and nonhuman world as a kind of furniture: a pleasant and diverting backdrop for us to journey through this world on our way to the next.
But the teaching of Laudato Si draws our attention to the fact that God has purposes for and in creation. We need to pause and absorb this. What could such purposes be? How are we supposed to serve these purposes?
It is the constant teaching of Scripture and tradition that God intends to renew creation. It has a permanent relevance and an intrinsic place in God’s plan. It is not dispensable; it participates in salvation history in a unique and specific way. At the fall, it is marred by human sin and suffers from our wrongdoing; it participates with joy in the coming of the Saviour; and it will be resplendently transformed at the consummation of all things.
Creation must be part of our religious life, not peripheral to it. Hence, we are asked to pray for the care of creation; to pray that we are able to fulfil our role as stewards, in order that God’s plan for creation can come to its fruition. In other words, creation should be a presence in our prayer, in our communication with God, both our listening and our speaking.
The Scriptures give us multiple ways of imagining this presence. The ravens’ young cry to God for their food (Job 38.41). The lions seek their food from God (Psalm 104.21). The whole cosmos groans for redemption in Christ (Romans 8.22). Scripture thus indicates clearly to us that we not only pray for the care of creation; we pray with creation. When we pray we join in the hymn that arises spontaneously and unceasingly from all creatures to their Creator. In the marvellous words of the Benedicite, even frost and snow, seas and rivers, bless the Lord. Thomas Merton puts it with characteristic force: “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree… The special clumsy beauty of this particular colt on this April day in this field under these clouds is a holiness consecrated to God by his own creative wisdom, and it declares the glory of God.” If we can learn to listen to the natural world as a voice of prayer, we will be better prepared to serve God’s purpose to renew all creation in Christ.
Question for Reflection:
Pope Francis has asked us to develop an ecological spirituality. What can I do to make creation a presence in my prayer? Do I allow creation to move me to praise, thanksgiving, petition, or penitence?
You can find the full version of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ here.