Gracious, loving Creator God,
how awesome, lovely, and manifold are the works of your creation.
In wisdom you have made them all:
from the tiniest ant to the huge whales of the sea,
from the all-seeing hawk to the slow-moving caterpillar.
Yet into this incredible variety you have formed a grammar of creation,
so that each created entity has its own role, its own relationship,
and its own value within the whole.
Help us Creator God, to recognize the many ways in which you speak to us
so that we may come to cherish and respect more deeply
our own relationships with you and the earth that you have created.
St. Francis is credited with saying, “When you preach, use words only if necessary”—in more general terms, “Actions speak louder than words.’’
A year ago Pope Francis gave us his extraordinary letter Laudato Si’—Care of Creation. Three parishes that I know have taken that letter and creatively shared its spirit in extraordinary ways not only in their parishes, but beyond. One specific project they all have in common is that they use God’s gift of gardens to enrich parish life and help others.
These parish gardens provide fresh produce to soup kitchens in Rockland County, N.Y.; the South Bronx; and Bergen, and Union counties and East Brunswick, all in New Jersey.
The Catholic Community of St. John Neumann, in rural Califon, N.J., has had a parish community garden for 10 years and expanded it this year in response to Laudato Si’. The parish invited those who use the parish food pantry to claim a raised bed in the garden and learn to grow their own food. Not only has this garden filled a practical purpose, but also a more important spiritual one. Parishioners who had left the church have returned, and local Protestant churches have provided volunteer gardeners. A college ministry, youth groups, and passers-by have all gotten involved. “It has become an evangelization opportunity,” says Ann Geronimo, who heads the project.
In the classic suburban town Upper Saddle River, the Church of the Presentation has nurtured small faith-sharing groups for the past 30 years. Their garden at Presentation was created by the St. Francis Ministry as an educational and social-justice outreach. Garden teams are responsible for various crops and activities; the entire parish is invited to bring compost materials with them to Mass on Sundays and visit the garden. Children attending Bible Vacation Camp planted their own raised bed; in spring, when the plants are sprouting from seed, they are presented at Sunday Mass and blessed. In the fall when the harvest is plentiful, the crops are again presented at Mass.
The garden provides for the parish’s own food pantry as well as ones in Newark; Rockland County, N.Y. and the South Bronx. Garden tours, educational classes, and connections and imagery in the Sunday homilies, all reinforce why and how to “Care for Creation.” The parish has also installed five bee hives and has a bee keeper to care for them.
In a busy commuter town, Holy Trinity Parish in Westfield, N.J., initiated small faith-sharing groups this past Lent and used Creation at the Crossroads, a RENEW International publication, as the resource. Over one hundred people met in small groups during Lent and reflected on the Scripture and the pope’s letter. As a result, each group came up with a project that was presented on a weekend to the entire parish at hospitality hour in the parish center. The parishioners voted using green stickers.
As a result, this October the groups will launch an Environmental Awareness and Action effort. The first priority is to work with Catholic Relief Services and raise awareness and funds for a water project in Ethiopia where water is scarce or non-existent, especially for those who are poor. Each Sunday in October, the groups will focus on involving young parishioners who are in the religious education program and youth ministry. They will install water fountains that allow parishioners to refill reusable water bottles (which the groups will sell as a fund raiser); develop a parish meditation garden; support the food pantry in new ways and have those who volunteer at the food pantry read and reflect on the section of Creation at the Crossroads that deals with food scarcity in the world.
When God had created the world, he said to the first human beings, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Gen 1:29-30). God made clear two things—that the food we harvest is for all people and that it provides nourishment. These parishes are cooperating in that work with their own gardens, making sure that even those people without food are fed, because they too are God’s beloved creatures, and that they are nourished by it. Even further, in these parishes both the harvesters and the reapers are enriched spiritually through giving and fellowship.
All three of these parishes are connecting faith with action, involving all generations, reaching out to the least among us, educating the next generation, and bringing it all to the Sunday Eucharist where we are given food for our life’s journey.
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director and Director of Development at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi—a great day for all Franciscans around the world. Today is also the feast day of our pope – who has chosen to call himself Francis after this holy and simple man of God.
Recently we have been challenged by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’,” which he opens with a quote from St. Francis’ famous Canticle of the Creatures. I think it would be fair to say this is truly a “Franciscan” encyclical! Pope Francis begins, “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, St. Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”(No. 1).
Pope Francis calls all of us, especially those committed to the Franciscan tradition, to take seriously St. Francis’ profound theological beliefs about seeing God embedded in a spectacularly interconnected world—God as the source of each and every creature, no matter how small.
We read: “(St. Francis’) response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection…Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior” (No. 11).
RENEW International, in conjunction with GreenFaith and the Catholic Climate Covenant, is producing Creation at the Crossroads, a small-group, faith-sharing resource that examines the encyclical through the lens of prayer and Scripture. This resource will bring people of faith a conversion of spirit that will lead to greater action to care for our common home and all who inhabit it.
We know that we can make a difference, opening the eyes of Catholics and other people of faith to the significance of this timely issue. While people of faith know the importance of caring for human life, they do not always grasp that caring for all of creation is an integral component of that mission. Our people and our planet are inextricably linked. We cannot truly help one while contributing to the destruction of the other.
Pope Francis encourages us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi whose own experience of conversion and appreciation of our connection to the environment helped him embrace all God’s creation.
“I ask all Christians,” the pope writes, “to recognize and to live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied” (No. 221).
Sr. Maureen P. Colleary, FSP is a member of RENEW’s Pastoral Services Team and is a Franciscan Sister of Peace.
Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), challenges all of us to turn the global issues surrounding environmental degradation into a personal call to action. The pope writes:
“Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
Over the past several decades, environmental awareness has increased in our local communities. The most visible public examples of this are the widespread practice of recycling and the ban on smoking in most public places. Both of these entail individual actions, which positively impact the greater community. I believe Pope Francis is calling us to something bigger, however. What can we do to have a positive impact on the environment, call communities to action, directly serve those who are poor, and provide a lasting legacy for generations to follow? I have found part of the answer in the simple task of gardening.
I believe personal and community gardening are direct responses to the sentiment in the pope’s encyclical. Gardens literally use our earth to feed people, and environmentally aware gardeners are able to provide earthly sustainability for future generations.
My family immigrated to the United States from Italy when I was 7 years old. In Italy, my dad, like his father before him, maintained a working family farm that produced and sold olive oil and wine. He also grew a wide variety of fruits and nuts and raised small farm animals. This allowed us to be self-sustaining while selling and sharing our surplus.
After arriving in the United States, we lived in Brooklyn before my family moved to the Westchester suburbs when I was in my early teens. One of my parents’ first priorities at our new home was to establish a garden. This involved us all working hard, tilling and removing “rocky soil,” and our efforts were worthwhile. My parents’ garden not only nourished and sustained our family of seven, but the extra yield was shared with friends and neighbors. Vegetable gardening was not a common practice in our new neighborhood, and I didn’t fully appreciate my parents’ “labor of love” until I became a parent myself. It was at that point that I planted my own first small garden, which has grown more elaborate with each passing year.
Since it was my desire to feed and nourish our children with healthy food, I urged my husband to join me in participating in food co-ops and supporting local organic gardening, community sponsored agriculture, and the health and wellness movement. As our daughters have moved into their adult lives, my personal interest in helping others with respect to health, healing, and wellness led me enroll in a program to become a certified health coach. Since I have done so, my view of ecological issues regarding climate change has taken on a whole new meaning. I have to admit that it can be challenging and disheartening at times to hear the varying opinions of individuals and political advocacy groups that have different agendas with respect to the environment. I find it difficult to decipher who and what is right, and for these reasons, I keep seeking, praying, and aligning myself with the messages of Pope Francis for guidance.
In recent years, our parish, The Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, has become a “green sanctuary,” inspired by Pope Francis’ stance in the encyclical on the environment. Last fall, a gardening ministry was formed to plan and build a parish garden, and I was privileged and blessed to be on the planning committee. I can proudly say that the efforts of a small dedicated group of garden experts, interested individuals, and volunteer “worker bees” have given birth to “The Presentation Parish Garden.” The primary goal of this beautiful garden is to grow fresh produce which is used to feed the hungry through the efforts of our soup kitchen ministry. However, growing vegetables as a community has also provided lessons for the children and the families of our parish concerning the cycle of nature, from “composting to harvesting,” and our part in the whole cycle of life. Perhaps the most important less is the value of true Christian stewardship—our personal and communal responsibility in this miraculous process of God’s creation.
Although classes are not in session, Pope Francis’ call for a more sustainable future, sounded in On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), resonates on college campuses this summer. Colleges and universities by nature tend to take the long view—both in their mission to educate citizens and in their desire to sustain thriving institutions. The vision of environmental sustainability fits well with these priorities.
Today’s college students certainly understand the pope’s message. From my position as director of sustainability at the University of Pennsylvania, I see every year’s incoming class more keen to adopt sustainable practices—and eager to collaborate with administrators and faculty seeking to reduce our campus’s environmental impact. It’s not surprising—it’s their future that we university staff and professors are helping to create. Students feel an appropriate sense of ownership of their campuses, and they believe that colleges and universities should be leading the way in changing how we live, how we treat each other, and how we treat the planet. After all, if colleges and universities don’t take the lead, then who will?
Universities have often been early adopters of societal transformations. Colleges are full of young people, open to new ideas and hopeful that the society they build will be more open, more inclusive, and more just.
But there’s a second reason why campus communities are at the forefront of social change, and certainly at the forefront of environmental awareness. University and college campuses are physical spaces each with a particular character and history. Much smaller than cities, they are places where students live, work, study, play, and socialize in close proximity to each other—spending every minute of the day on campus for weeks at a time. Places like these develop particular meaning for their inhabitants: students care about them and for them.
Campuses share these characteristics with other intentional communities. Students apply for admission (and pay to stay at school); staff members compete for jobs; and faculty face perhaps the most severe selection process of all: tenure review. Everyone at a university wants to be there; most everyone respects and cares for the institution; and all that care to are granted the opportunity to participate in making it better.
Academic institutions are intentional communities in another way that is rare in our culture. Although diversity of opinion is welcome (eagerly pursued, in fact), campuses engender a sense of shared mission among its inhabitants: a love of learning; respect for accumulated knowledge and the traditions of scholarship; and a common spirit of inquiry. Places with such shared values are, as has been often pointed out, the places where sustainable practices and habits are most likely to arise.
Campuses with shared values are also the places where you find yearning for social justice, and students intuitively relate to Pope Francis when he quotes the wisdom of the Dominican bishops in Laudato Si’: “Peace, justice, and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated…” Social equity and a sustainable future are tied together. The urgent pleas for social justice, so evidenced on American college campuses in this year rife with examples of institutional injustice, are tied to the yearning for a better future for all. The desires to reduce carbon emissions or promote biodiversity are, after all, not ends in themselves, but means to achieve a more livable planet for everyone.
The University of Pennsylvania is committed to reducing our environmental footprint and improving social equity in our city, our region, and throughout the world. And, I’m happy to say, we’re far from alone in our efforts to do so. Through the Ivy Plus Sustainability Consortium (to name just one of many coalitions of universities), Penn has committed to working cooperatively with thirteen other research institutions to improve social equity while reducing our collective environmental impact. We meet annually to share best practices and engage in joint research projects focused in institutional sustainability. We’re fortunate to have support from our university presidents, trustees, faculty, and students in these endeavors, and are working hard to make progress. This year, we also have a powerful ally in Pope Francis, who is helping to galvanize communities of faith on campuses across the world. His call to seek social justice through environmental improvement will not go unheeded, and we are looking forward to seeing the impact of his message on college campuses over the coming years.
While I was working as a local reporter, I spent a couple of years covering a city that for decades had hosted big industries—mostly heavy metals and petroleum.
This was in the 1960s, when the nation’s great awakening regarding care of the environment had not yet occurred.
The industries located in this city emitted all sorts of toxic materials into surface and ground water, into the earth, and into the atmosphere.
Few voices were raised then about examining the nature of these emissions and their effect on ecology, and particularly their effect on human, animal, and vegetable life.
One of those voices belonged to a young lawyer who regularly appeared at public meetings to discuss this issue.
Far from being taken seriously, he was widely regarded as eccentric and naïve.
I was covering a meeting of the city governing body one day when this young man stood up and told the officials that he had recently bought a new car:
“I drove the car home from the showroom and parked it in front of my house and, gentlemen, when I went out the next morning, I could write my name in the filth that had accumulated on the hood.”
The city attorney, who wasn’t supposed to speak unless he was asked a question, muttered loudly enough for everyone to hear: “Gee, it’s nice to be educated,” and the audience laughed.
This vignette represents the state of mind that prevailed in those days when “we”—if I may generalize—did not think about the consequences of what we did in the environment.
The young lawyer eventually was vindicated as government and society began to recognize that practices once were taken for granted were damaging air, water, earth, and the health of human beings and other species of life.
Industries that once had released substances including sulfur, lead, and mercury into the environment were compelled to adopt controls on their smokestacks and effluent outflows and in general use safer means to dispose of waste.
But progress in this field has never caught up with the full dimension of the problem; human activity is still damaging the environment, which is an observable phenomenon, whether or not one wants to blame mankind, wholly or in part, for global warming in particular.
Pope Francis made this point in his encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), writing that “our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.’’
This is not still subject to scientific investigation; it’s an observable fact. With respect to the end of the cycle of consumption, it’s an observable fact in American homes and businesses that send as much or more waste to landfills than to recycling centers.
Resistance to this and other messages in the encyclical has tended to be expressed on a macro scale, but damage to the air, earth, and water on which we all depend begins with individual human beings.
In this regard, Pope Francis cited Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christian community, who has “called attention to the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for ‘inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage,’ we are called to acknowledge ‘our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.’ ”
In the 1950s I worked in my family’s grocery store where we used a very large cardboard barrel, hidden behind a refrigeration unit, to dispose of all sorts of trash including paper, metal, and plastic.
One of my chores, when this barrel was filled to the top, was to drag it around the back of the building and burn everything in it.
Being a kid and naturally attracted to fire, I enjoyed this part of my job, particularly when the occasional aerosol can that had been thrown into the barrel would explode with a sharp bang.
None of us then thought about the smoke and fumes that spread out from that fire; they were out of sight and out of mind.
But I hope that if we were operating that store today we would know better and that we would find a safer, if more complex, means of disposing of that trash.
If we did not, given what we now know about ecology, how could we escape moral culpability for the outcomes of our cynicism and carelessness?
We live in interesting times – this month (June) Pope Francis issues his first social encyclical, Laudato Sii, dealing with ecological questions; and, the US Supreme Court will hand down its decision on same sex marriage. At any rate, both of these happenings will give us Catholics both the opportunity, and, to be sure, the duty to engage the world and witness to our teachings, to our vision of the human person, of our place and our dignity in the world which we recognized as both fallen and redeemed.
This “vision” enshrined in the Church’s moral teachings embraces what we could call both a natural and a human ecology, or what has also been referred to as “integral ecology”.
All that touches on human flourishing involves ethics and morality. “Creation care” or commitment to stewardship of the world’s resources is therefore an ethical choice. It recognizes that the earth, in the words of Pope Benedict, is “not simply our property, which we can exploit according to our interests and desires…It is, instead, a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order and, in this way, provided the instructions for us to consult.” There is today broad consensus among scientists that climate change presents real threat to human flourishing on this planet. The Church cannot be indifferent. Because we believe in the Creator, the Church “has a responsibility with creation and has to fulfill this responsibility in public”.
Given that today greater numbers of people are more keenly aware of the need to protect the natural environment, these words concerning a natural ecology are generally welcomed. However, it is much more difficult today for people to connect the dots and see that there is a linkage between a natural ecology and a human ecology.
As human beings, we do not “create” ourselves; rather we are created – as the Book of Genesis says, “in the image and likeness of God”. The nature of the human being is to be a man or a woman. This order of creation also must be respected and protected if human beings are to flourish. To accept our creatureliness does not contradict our freedom but it is a precondition for its true exercise.
An integral ecology demands that rain forests be protected – because of what they do potentially and actually for the flourishing of the human species on this earth. Likewise, marriage, understood for millennia as a union of one man and one woman, ought to be respected and protected. Marriage always has been primarily about the raising of children (who seem to be hardwired to be best raised by a father and a mother who are married to each other). It is certainly legitimate then to favor such traditional marriages – in law and custom -as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations.
Just as we favor laws that limit the danger of pollutants damaging our sensitive ecosystems, should we not be concerned about the “toxic waste” of pornography and its effects on the human ecology of the young?
Today, some hold for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will. Such thinking has brought about the degradation of our physical environment; and, it now threatens our social environment as well. In the face of increasing relativism and individualism in the wider culture, we have too often forgotten that marriage (and the family built on marriage) reflects the truth of our human nature as social beings. Our human nature – like Mother Nature itself – is a “gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and in this way provided the instructions for us to consult…” As Pope Francis said in Manila this past January citing a popular adage, “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives.”
Minimizing our “carbon footprint”, implementing sustainable farming techniques, protecting the O-zone layer, working to reduce waste and pollution are part of “Creation care” – and in attending to these things, we exercise our stewardship over the earth; but at the same time, defending marriage, promoting the family, protecting the young, are also part of the “Creation care” necessary for human flourishing on planet Earth.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski is the Archbishop of Miami.