by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA 2023 Teacher of Peace
For Catholics, Christians of other traditions, and indeed “all people living on this planet” to whom Pope Francis has directed his epochal encyclical, Laudato Si’, two features fill its pages: pastoral practice and spirituality. This is especially true for us Christian Catholics as we observe this Season of Creation. Francis and several recent popes have appropriated it as a yearly call to concentrate on the welfare of our beloved Mother Earth.
Our attention in these weeks is called to the ominous threats and their causes which face our common home. We are encouraged to reflect on such specifics as the cry of the Earth; the cry of the poor and ecological economics. The Season is a call also to pastoral considerations: simple lifestyles, educating ourselves on the state of planet Earth and community action. As Pope Francis puts it: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is critical to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”
Therefore, as we learn more about the facts and figures of this ecological moment in human history, it is helpful to look at our faith-based (pastoral) demands and the deepest motivation for them in our relationship with Creator-God. The Holy Father continually calls us to dialogue with science. He says: “It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality.” Faith has a word to offer at every level of scientific discourse. He says further: “The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity.”
Other pastoral considerations that come to mind in the Season of Creation include involving our communities in caring for creation and coming to a deeper understanding that the most impoverished people of the Earth are as the immediate victims and witnesses to what results from sins against our Common home.
The other topic which runs through the Season of Creation is spirituality. To understand this
new dimension of our Life in God – ecology – is to deepen our awareness of what modern
Catholic Social Teaching has pointed out for over a century.
CST. a gift of the Spirit for this new era in human history, beginning with the Industrial Revolution – has opened our eyes to a spirituality which goes beyond personal and interpersonal relationships with God. It has presented us with the existence of structural, globalized realities and Gospel-based responses on our part. In our time there is an ever-growing awareness that this new moment represents an expanded dimension of our relationship with the Creator and the need for an ecological conversion. Again, Pope Francis lays out the contours of this relationship and spiritual conversion.
He begins with a consideration of God’s revelation of God’s own inner life, the Holy Trinity: the Father, ultimate source of all being; the Son, refection of the Father, through whom all things were created, and who united himself with Creation as a human person; the Spirit, infinite bond of love, intimately present at the very heart of the universe. This is the Incomprehensible Mystery in whom everything lives and moves and has its being. It is the central belief which invites us to develop a global spirituality based on it.
Part of Pope Francis’ wonderful connection between our spirituality and current ecological awareness is his reflection on those unique Catholic practices, the sacraments. They are each tied to the Earth and point to sublime realities – water poured in Baptism, anointing with oil in Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick, and above all, bread and wine becoming the very Presence of our Redeemer.
Pope Francis has once again given us words for these pastoral and spiritual aspects of the Season of Creation: “We are journeying toward the sabbath of eternity, toward our common home.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the 2023 Pax Christi USA Teacher 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.