Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Today is the first annual Day for the Prayer of Creation, inaugurated soon after Pope Francis released Laudato Si. In the letter inaugurating this day of prayer, in which we join together with Orthodox Christians throughout the world, Pope Francis writes:
As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.).
Pope Francis notes that this day will be one of conversion, of prayer, and of reflection upon humanity’s responsibility in creating ecologies of destruction rather than love. The genius of Laudato Si remains its ability to locate our destruction of the created order in the sin that infects the human heart:
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (2).
This day, then, is not simply a Catholic equivalent to Earth Day per. Rather, it is an invitation for us to awaken to the conversion that is required if we are to live aright in the community of creation. We must look anew at our relationship with the entire created order, to see how our desire to grasp and own wounds the earth and the global human community alike. In the context of prayer, we must discern new habits that demonstrate our love for the created order anew.
These latter habits can be big and small. Some years ago, my wife and I received a Keurig from my parents. For years, I had grown accustomed to making a cup of coffee from that Keurig machine, aware of the destruction inflicted by those tiny plastic cups. But, it was so convenient. After reading Pope Francis’ encyclical this summer, we stopped using these plastic cups. We have begun to purchase coffee again and to use refillable K-Cups. Because of the “bad” habit that I had developed, the vice, this new practice was more difficult than it would seem. But, by developing a new habit, it has increased my own awareness of the cavalier way that I treat the created order as a whole.
In fact, it’s not just K-Cups that I have grown accustomed to using without thought. In fact, it is the entire created order that we have come to treat as something to be thrown-away. This day of prayer, of conversion, and repentance is an occasion to recommit ourselves to love all of creation, especially those in creation we find the hardest time to love. This is not an abstract exhortation but a day for us to set time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and to discern concretely how we treat the environment and each other as disposable objects for our own delight rather than gifts that elicit divine praise.