Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued an historic joint statement on September 1st—the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation—which begins the five-week ecumenical “Season of Creation.”
The brief declaration challenges Christians to maintain prayer front and center in their eco-protection efforts.
“We know that we labor in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps. 126-127), if prayer is not at the center of our reflection and celebration,” the statement reads.
While many secular and Catholic eco-advocates will emphasize the statement’s political overtones, the document first and foremost calls Christians to the realization that human nature must first be baptized with God’s grace before it can save the world from its fallen state.
Here are three takeaways from the statement:
First, it is founded on a reading of Genesis that dives deep into God’s revealed truths—from God’s good and ordered creation to the consequences of human sin.
Because of sin, “[w]e no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.
“The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people.”
In short, the story of Adam and Eve—those first consumers, who took from nature what they wanted even when they had been warned the consequences of doing so—is a prophetic tale. Their sin is ours. It is rooted in the use of free will for the attainment of our demands and desires, not with recognition of the will and the glory of God. This has always been the temptation for humanity. But today, with the addition of modern technologies and the powers they unleash, our choices have global implications.
Second, to understand the Catholic contribution to environmental protection, we must see the big picture of salvation history.
The pope and the patriarch encourage us “to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations.” But…”an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.”
Christ has conquered, but his victory is not a repudiation of our free will. History continues and our choices matter. We live “in the meantime” between the beginning and the end, the statement reminds us. Christ will come again and make all things new, but until then, we must make certain that when we choose, we do so with God’s will in mind.
Third, it’s our job to advocate for the planet.
“We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.”
Here in the States, the name of our president comes to mind when we read that leaders must “respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world.” The same will be true elsewhere about other leaders—in large nations and small, in large corporations and small business, and among the consumers who support them
“We are convinced,” Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew conclude, “that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”
If there’s one issue that should unite all people, it’s our natural environment—the life support system of the human race. And if there’s one time when we can commit ourselves to be better caretakers of the great gift that God has given us, then it is now, this Season of Creation, which continues until October, 4th, the Feast of Saint Francis.
For more information on the Season of Creation, visit seasonofcreation.org
William Patenaude, M.A., KHS, is an engineer with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and is a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He is a parishioner of Saint Joseph Parish, West Warwick, and writes at CatholicEcology.net.