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.
Brothers and sisters of the natural world
6 October 2017
St. Francis of Assisi is the “the guide and inspiration” of Pope Francis’ entire papacy. He is the patron of ecology, the natural environment, and all who work to protect creation. This spiritual giant was known in his own time as a ‘second Jesus’.
For Pope Francis, the saint of Assisi “shows us just how inseparable is the bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.” Laudato Si’ often expresses a concern that care for nature and human beings can in our own time become separated. Secular ‘nature spirituality’ often expresses this kind of dualism. In contrast, the life and teaching of St. Francis witness to a deep spiritual unity between nature and humanity. For him, a love of the poor and a love of the natural world imply one another, and cannot ever be opposed.
Pope Francis does not tire of reminding us that the saint of Assisi names the creatures of the natural world as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. The Pope recognises that we might find this language silly or trite. It seems perhaps like a child’s fairytale, a fluffy sentimentalism. But to react in this way, the Pope warns, is to miss the revolution of life and behaviour such a way of thinking demands. It is not simply to please us or warm us that this fraternal imagery is used. Rather it reflects the reality, which is that we are all creatures of the one God, who is the same source and loving Father of all.
St. Francis’ fraternal care for all creatures is the only appropriate response to the truth of our faith: every creature is in Christ. “Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light.”
This truth places upon us a tremendous obligation. Human beings, whom God has asked to ‘till and keep’ this earth, are the most responsible of all God’s creatures. We are the ones God has tasked with bringing this creation to its fulfilment. To cultivate care, affection and concern for the living creatures who share this earth with us is an intrinsic part of our human vocation. This care and concern, the Pope soberly reminds us, are not optional, but obligatory.
As though anticipating our reluctance, Pope Francis points to the example of Jesus, who says of the birds of the air that “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Lk 12:6). “How then”, he asks, “can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?”
Laudato Si’ is nothing if not demanding. If we treated every creature as our brother or sister, our lives would have to change very drastically. The only word for this is ‘conversion’.
Question for Reflection:
How would my life change if I really saw God’s creation as a single family, and God’s creatures as my brothers and sisters?
Would I shop differently? Eat differently? Talk differently? Pray differently?
The Catholic faith – a vision of all that exists
29 September 2017
Laudato Si’ was not well-received in all quarters. Some people said that popes have no business meddling in science. The Church’s leaders, it was said, have authority to speak on ‘faith and morals’, but should stay out of politics, economics, and scientific debate.
The problem with this way of thinking is that it compartmentalises reality. It assumes that there is a ‘religious’ sphere and a ‘secular’ sphere, and the two should remain firmly separated. Nothing could be further from the view of Catholic tradition. ‘Catholic’ means according to the whole. The Catholic faith is a vision of all that exists. There is no aspect of reality which falls outside the vision of faith. There is no such thing as a ‘secular’ space, if by ‘secular’ is meant a space outside of Christian concern.
Laudato Si’ opens with an extensive engagement with contemporary science – ecology, climate science, conservation biology – to give a specific, technical and detailed analysis of the state of our natural world. Pope Francis says:
“I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows.”
Pope Francis asks us to let ourselves be touched deeply by scientific research. He proposes that it should found our ethical and spiritual purposes. He refuses the idea that Christian faith is somehow only concerned with unearthly, ‘supernatural’ things. The opposite is true. The supernatural gives value to the natural, it does not detract from it. Science, politics and economics are not outside the domain of Christian concern, but central to it. Like many popes before him, not least Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical letter Caritatis in Veritate, Pope Francis takes the practical disciplines of science, economics and so on very seriously indeed.
By its very scope and breadth of engagement, Laudato Si’ is a powerful reminder of the scale of our responsibility as Christian believers. Christians cannot excuse themselves from being informed and active citizens, as though our religious commitments could be carried on in a vacuum from the troubles and travails of our nations and our world; as though the work of understanding, analysing and solving the problems of the world could be left to others.
For Francis, the shape of our lives as Christians is centrifugal. The Gospel impels us out: out to the margins; out into the so-called ‘secular world’.
Question for Reflection:
Do I perpetuate in my own life a compartmentalisation of reality – as though my ‘religious’ life could be separated from the rest of it? How can I exercise my Christian responsibility to be actively informed about our world?
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?