Part II covered the spiritual belief shared by St. Francis and Pope Francis of the unity of everything in our universe, an undeniable truth because God created it all, from galaxies, to humans, to bugs and dirt under our feet. A summary of the five-chapter, 115-page guts of Laudato Si’ was the auspicious goal of Part III. In Chapter 6, “Ecological Education and Spirituality,” the gloves come off.
Pope Francis calls upon us to change ourselves and our lifestyle. “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own, and consume.” “Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle … can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.” In Chapter 2, Pope Francis quoted the bishops of New Zealand, who put this pointedly in 2006 by asking “What does ‘Thou shall not kill’ mean when ‘twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs poor nations and future nations of what they need to survive.’” My friends, few of us are not are in the 20%. “In the end,” Pope Francis says, “a world of exacerbated consumption is … a world which mistreats life in all its forms.” He then consoles, “all is not lost” because, with thought and caring and inspired by meditative prayer, we can act in a way that treats all of God’s creation fairly.
A transformative lifestyle change, which Pope Francis likens to an “ecological conversion”, is scary enough, but Pope Francis asks more of us. Following our own ecological conversion, he asks us to help convert the world. We need to persuade governments, and those who profit from the status quo and have the ability to change it, to do so. Transformation and persuasion seem like such big jobs. We want to throw up our hands. Pope Francis offers two responses to that inclination: Education and Spirituality, hence the title of Chapter 6.
He elaborates: “Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A person who could afford to spend and consume more, but … uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows that kind of conviction and attitude.” With summer’s arrival, we could invert the temperatures, and try not to insist that our AC protect us from even a little discomfort while we wear a stylish wool garment. Pope Francis continues: “There is a nobility in [caring] for creation through little daily actions.” “Education can bring about real changes in lifestyle [and encourage actions] which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.” Even the way we deal with our plentiful food can be spiritual. One third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is discarded, it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.”
When we do those little things—adjust the thermostat, recycle, manage our food or donate some, or write a letter to the editor saying we would rather pay a little more in our taxes than see the earth degraded—we are exercising a kind of spirituality. It will grow like the flowers surrounding St. Francis. The small creatures around him will applaud. And we will feel the grace of prayer through action.
Pope Francis concludes this encouragement by saying “We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world.” They can be the first steps in a spiritual journey, one our yet even-to-be-conceived inheritors of the planet will thank us for taking; or regret that we failed to take, assuming they arrive and survive to have such regrets.
It is time to get on our environmental bikes which, by the way, emit no carbon monoxide.
In the last paragraph of Laudato Si’, the Pope says:
[T]his … reflection … has been both joyful and troubling. I propose … two prayers. We can share the first with all who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator. We can share the second with all Christians, asking “for the inspiration to take up the commitment to creation set before us by the Gospel of Jesus.
A prayer for our earth, to be shared with all who believe in one God, our Creator
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.
A Christian prayer in union with creation
Father, we praise you with all your creatures. They came forth from your all-powerful hand; they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love. Praise be to you!
Son of God, Jesus, through you all things were made. You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother, you became part of the earth, and you gazed upon this world with human eyes. Today you are alive in every creature in your risen glory. Praise be to you!
Holy Spirit, by your light you guide this world towards the Father’s love and accompany creation as it groans in travail. You also dwell in our hearts and you inspire us to do what is good. Praise be to you!
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love, teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe, for all things speak of you. Awaken our praise and thankfulness for every being that you have made. Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined to everything that is.
God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out. O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life, to prepare for a better future, for the coming of your Kingdom of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!
Humbly, I offer a focus for meditation, not necessarily a prayer to be said aloud or in a gathering, but more of a starting point for contemplation when we take those small steps, like separating waste, or any of the other tasks necessary to respect and care for God’s creation. It also may help when we struggle to say “no” to consumptive ways.
Lord, thank you for creation, and for making humans part of it: from sunrises, to flowers, to earthworms and even those slimy slugs who always get to my vegetable garden. I embrace all because you willed all, and me, into existence as one. Thank you also for counting me worthy to be a steward of your creation. As I go about my steward’s tasks, I feel the spirituality of stewardship, and pray for continued guidance.