Day of Prayer for all Creation

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Reflection of

Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dubbin

Holy Cross  College , Clonliffe, 1st September 2016

This World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is something quite unique.  It is an appeal to all men and women anywhere on this earth to join in unity to reflect on what care for the creation means; what care for creation means for ourselves, what care for creation means for the good of humanity and what care for creation means for the intrinsic good of creation itself.

This World Day of Prayer is also an event which aims to bring together members of varied Christian communities as they search to restore the visible unity of the Church of Jesus Christ.  Our coming together as representatives and members of different Christian Churches and communities is not a sort of pragmatic coming together of people of faith interested in ecological questions.  It is not an academic seminar. It is about understanding together how our care for creation can help us to understand better something of what the visible union of all Christians involves.  Our search for visible unity and for the common care for creation belong inseparably together.

It is also important to remember that the call of Christians to care for creation is at the same time a call for the defence of the poor.    The care of creation embraces all of creation, including the men and women and children who are created in a special way in the image and likeness of God.  There is no contradiction between fighting against environmental degradation and fighting against poverty and exclusion.   Anything which damages and weakens the dignity of any human being weakens the integrity of creation.  Climate justice is about the environment and it is about people.  To say this is not to affirm a false or narrow anthropocentric understanding of creation.  Damage to creation damages men and women.  When men and women damage creation they are acting against the environment and against people.

Pope Francis in his Message for this Day takes up many of the concerns expressed by other religious leaders and especially those of the orthodox tradition.  This year he takes up the concerns of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, about the sin of harming creation.

Harming creation is a sin.  Speaking about sin, draws our attention to the moral and spiritual roots of environmental degradation.  There is almost a sense of an eleventh commandment, a calling to all believers to the fact that disregard for creation is disregard for the creator; it is an offence against God.

If disregard for creation is a sin, then the path to overcoming such disregard is not just environmental policy and funding; as with any other sin, the path to overcoming sinful disregard for creation is fundamentally a path of conversion.

Pope Francis takes this thought up by looking at the basic elements we would look for in any conversion.  Conversion includes within it the concept of what we Catholics call a firm purpose of amendment.  Real conversion must endure.  It is not just the emotion of a moment.  Ecological conversion involves also making good any damage that we have done.

One example Pope Francis gives is the need to invert and make good the ecological debt between the global north and the global south.  Ecological conversion demands increased support for poorer nations and marginalised people to deal with climate change that our style of life may have caused.  We must make good the damage we have done and restore poorer nations to that just starting point which we have culpably altered. We must do this through doing what we can to help poorer nations foster sustainable development.   Ecological conversion involves a purpose of amendment which commits us to restoring and maintaining the original commandment to preserve creation from harm, so that we can hand on creation in its integrity and in its beauty to our future generation.

The Pope almost formulates a new commandment, but then he takes an even further step.  He speaks of care of creation as an additional work of mercy.    The title of his Message is: Show Mercy to our Common Home, inserting this Day of Prayer into the wider Jubilee Year of Marcy.  Conversion comes when we encounter God’s infinite mercy.  Mercy must be the fruit of any conversion.

Pope Francis has written that “The name of God is mercy”.  Mercy is not do-goodism but humanizing lonely or troubled lives by personal contact and support and human warmth.  Mercy is about becoming involved with a new and deeper partnership with creation.  Mercy is about restoring and healing and making whole once again the gift of creation.  It is a totally revolutionary manner in which we show care for the world we live in and all that belongs within it.

Pope Francis notes: “We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness… But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.” And he adds: “obviously ‘human life itself and everything it embraces’ includes care for our common home”.

What does that mean?  As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world”.  God reveals himself in the beauty and integrity of creation.  We must learn then to discover in each living thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us.   Beautifully Pope Francis then reminds us that: “As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires ‘simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness’ and ‘makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world’”

All of this is summed up in a beautiful and simple prayer of Pope Francis:

  • “O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, who are so precious in your eye.
  • God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth”
  • God of mercy, may we receive your forgiveness and convey your mercy throughout our common home.
  • Praise be to you! Amen.