Fr Billy Swan
I have been a priest now for over 23 years. In that time, I have heard many confessions. In those years, I have never heard anyone say something like this: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. I am guilty of illegal dumping and polluting the river” or “I have sinned by ignoring those effected by climate change”; “In the past month, I have made no effort to reduce my carbon footprint”. I suspect that this is also the experience of many priests. Yet we priests also need to ask ourselves the same question: “How often do we include in our examen of conscience our moral obligation to care for the earth?” It seems that while we all agree that care for our common home is important, we are not as convinced as we should be that care for the earth is part of our moral responsibility as Christians. This is a problem and one that needs to be addressed if the Church is to lead the way in responding to climate change which is causing increasing havoc.
The theme of this years ‘Season of Creation’ is ‘Restoring our Common Home’. This is fitting and appropriate for it suggests that our ‘Common Home’ needs healing and restoration. It sure does. This summer alone we have seen wildfires in California and around Europe. Record temperatures were recorded in Sicily. Severe flooding in Germany and in China with loss of life and mass destruction. In Greenland recently, it rained for the first time ever. This is not good news for it indicates that ice caps are beginning to melt which will significantly increase sea levels. In Madagascar, a terrible famine is unfolding that is caused by a severe drought that in turn is caused by climate change. People are starving and are reduced to eating locusts.
All of what we see unfolding was confirmed recently by the publication of a report by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report was prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries and proves that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years. In 2019 alone, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years. The UN Secretary General described the report as a ‘Code Red’ for humanity and an urgent call for action.
In his message for the ‘World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation’ Pope Francis warned that: “We have caused a climate emergency that gravely threatens nature and life itself including our own”. The pope has been a tireless advocate for those who are most effected by climate change and the need to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. For him, the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor unite as one for the well-being of humanity is linked to the wellbeing of the planet. For as he explains in ‘Laudato Si’, the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together’ (para. 48).
For Pope Francis, the underlying problem of climate change is not just scientific but religious and moral. For when we lose sight of our Creator God then we play God ourselves and exploit our power in a way that is damaging:
“That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality” (para. 75).
This happens, according to Francis, “when we consider ourselves autonomous, when we exclude God from our lives or replace him with our own ego, and think that our subjective feelings can define what is right and what is wrong” (para. 224).
For Francis, “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God…Everything is interconnected” (Laudato Si, 119, 138).
And so, the celebration of the ‘Season of Creation’ this year is a call to restore our common home but it is also a time of repentance and conversion. It is a time to place our Creator God at the center of our understanding, to love the created world and to care for it in His name. Loving and caring our common home will require that we take practical measures and make specific changes to care better for our common home. What might they be?
The Catholic Communications Office, the Bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace, the ‘Laudato Si’ Working Group, Trócaire, and the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development have produced excellent resources to mark this years ‘Season of Creation’. They are available to download at:
Included in these resources are ‘practical actions for parishes/families during the season of creation 2021’ that are offered under a hopeful heading taken from ‘Laudato Si’: “For we know that things can change!” (para. 13). These include many suggestions and steps that can help to conserve more and consume less. They are small steps that can reduce our carbon footprints in small but significant ways. These are measures that are within everyone’s reach and that strike a note of hope for our future – hope that is certainly needed in these times.
Elsewhere on the website are prayers and suggestions of how to implement ‘Laudato Si’, podcasts, videos, prayers and liturgies. Above all, these resources combine in re-adjusting our spirituality of caring for the earth as part of our love for God. We love everything He has made in his name.
So let us celebrate this year’s ‘Season of Creation’ with joy with the hope that it bears fruit. One sign of that fruit will be when we include in our examen of conscience our obligation to care for our common home.
I conclude with a prayer for our earth from ‘Laudato Si’
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.