by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

This coming Friday, September 2, we begin the Season of Creation 2022. Much like the time of Lent, it will be observed for five weeks, ending on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4.

This annual time of prayer on behalf of our threatened common home, Mother Earth, began in 1989 when then Ecumenical Patriarch of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Dimitrios I, declared September 1 each year as a day of prayer for creation. In later years, the World Council of Churches extended the observance to its present dates. In 2015 Pope Francis incorporated the Season of Creation into an annual prayer time. Thus, the Roman Catholic Church has followed the example of other Christian bodies in an entirely ecumenical effort. As we remember, 2015 was the year Pope Francis’s historical encyclical Laudato si’ was published. The two events are obviously intertwined.

Each year since the pope has given special attention to this time of prayer. This June, well in advance of the September starting date, he issued a lengthy pastoral letter in which he wrote: “We return to pray in the great cathedral of creation, enjoying the ‘grand cosmic choir’ of innumerable creatures singing praises to God.”

The pope’s letter makes four important points as guidelines for this season:

  1. Build an ethical basis for the transformation necessary to save biodiversity.
  2. Fight biodiversity loss; support its conservation and recovery and meet people’s need in a sustainable way.
  3. Promote global solidarity, taking into account that biodiversity is a global common good that requires a shared commitment.
  4. Put those in vulnerable situations at the center, including the ones most affected by biodiversity loss – such as indigenous peoples, older people and youth.

Papal attention gives rise to the question: will the Season of Creation become an official liturgical period, similar to Advent or Easter? It seems fitting that it would have that ranking. The Season begins at the time of harvest in the northern hemisphere and as Spring unfolds in the southern. The choice of the feast day of the universal saint, Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, is a fitting date for its closure. The Season of Creation is entirely global.

The symbol chosen for this year seems paradoxical  –  the Burning Bush. It immediately calls to mind the horrendous wildfires raging all over the world. The explanation for this allusion, however, is that it refers to the Burning Bush of the Exodus story which could not be extinguished, and wherein God appeared to Moses. That fire was a symbol of God’s abiding presence with His people – an ever burning and loving reality. At the same time, Moses was told to reverence the land on which the bush stood by removing his sandals. In this season of prayer over the earth the call is to “remove the sandals” of our unsustainable lifestyles. In addition, this year’s theme for the Season, “Listen to the Voice of Creation,” refers to God’s word in Exodus: “I have heard their cry… I know their sufferings… Come now! I will send you… I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:1-12)

Since the Season of Creation is, as yet, not an official liturgical time, the Scripture readings during the five Sundays of its observance continue with the traditional Biblical texts. However, more appropriate readings related to Creation have gradually been inserted replacing the usual ones. More importantly, we can access useful background reflections for each of the Sundays to connect the readings with sub-themes in “Listening to the voice of Creation.”

Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
Son of God, you became part of this earth.
Holy Spirit, by your light you accompany creation as it groans in travail.

(Pope Francis’s prayer at the conclusion of Laudato si’)

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

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