On 1 September the Catholic Church will take part in the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The day was first announced last year by Pope Francis, as a follow-up to his encyclical Laudato Si’.
The encyclical called for a ‘profound interior conversion’ in the world today:
‘… an ecological conversion – whereby the effects of our encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in our relationship with the world around us … 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. We rely on other species and habitats for our existence. We share a common home. Yet humans contribute most to the decline of ecosystems. Because of us, thousands of species no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us.’
There is a moral, social and political urgency to understand this reality and respond before it is too late. The problems faced by current and coming generations are rooted in decisions made now. In his Address to the UN Assembly the Pope commented, ‘Every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures, and therefore, any harm done to the environment, is harm done to humanity.’
Climate change is happening and those who cause least greenhouse gas emissions are most affected by its impacts. The poor suffer most because of unchecked development, overconsumption and environmental degradation. Our relationship with the earth is a relationship with the needy. Ecological sustainability is directly related to social justice and equity. A profit at any price mentality causes social exclusion and the destruction of nature.
Laudato Si’ addresses economic theory as much as it does environmental concerns. The Pope invites us to reconfigure our ideas of what progress and development look like. ‘The relationship between poverty and the fragility of the planet requires another way of managing the economy and measuring progress, conceiving a new way of living. Because we need a change that unites us all and that is free from the slavery of consumerism.’
The Jesuit mission today has a trifocal concern: the service of faith, the promotion of justice and reconciliation with creation. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius begin with the ‘Principal and Foundation’. Ignatius’ understanding of us ‘praising, reverencing, and serving God’ views creation as a dynamic, ongoing process. The Spirit of God continues to work within an evolving creation. The Creator is an artist labouring. Within the process of evolution, there is some disruption. There are disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis) that theologians sometimes describe as being like a seed dying for new birth, a kind of self-emptying. Such events must be distinguished from humans engaging in wanton violence, which is sinful and against the spirit of creation.
Other matters, such as burning fuels that cause climate change, require discernment to understand whether they are part of the Creator’s good desire for our common home. Our behaviours affect others and what we do now affects the future. These are a part of a mutual responsibility that we share.
The theologian Michael Dowd stresses how moving from ‘the world was made for me’ to ‘we were made for the world’ transforms human identity. He writes, ‘Conversing with wholeness, quietening our minds, surrendering our judgements, opening the horizons of the heart … opens us to a radical receptivity and openness. We still need to help change the world where there is injustice, and we also need this openness to deeper wisdom. If we get the right wisdom, the liberating change for others happens better.’ Sustainability is not a new concept to a culture that has existed for so long as to be timeless. Any pride we have about living ‘sustainably’ is based in this.
On the Care of our Common Home reminds us of our connection to creation: ‘The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.’
God is transcendent, almighty, and eternal but also God is intimately and personally with us here and now. God is within me and beyond all – omnipresent, omnipotent. At the start of Creation we believe there was an explosion of love and we believe this happens at every moment of our lives. We are recreated with God’s gaze all the time. We are part and whole at the same time.
Our task is to connect our experiences to God and to connect God to our experiences. Our interdependence is a mutuality of being in love. Once while bushwalking a friend said ‘Listen. The trees are praying’. Awareness of our interconnection within creation turns our lives into a meditation where we are in tune with all around us and in which every space is sacred.
Fr Peter Hosking SJ is Rector at St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point. This article was first published in the Gonzagan newsletter.