Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
In 2015, Pope Francis added the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation to the Catholic liturgical calendar to be celebrated on September 1steach year. In 2019, the Vatican has asked Catholic communities and pastors everywhereto join ecumenical communities around the world in celebrating the Season of Creation from September 1stto October 4th. This is a new liturgical season for Catholics, similar to Advent or Lent. It is a season dedicated to prayer, reflection, and celebration of God as Creator. It also celebrates and reflects prayerfully on the gifts of creation and the mission given us by God to care for creation and respond to its needs and crises today.
In its invitation to join in the celebration, the Season of Creation’s Ecumenical Advisory Group writes:
The scriptures begin with God’s affirmation that all of creation is “very good,” and as the stewards of God’s creation, we are called to protect and nurture its goodness (Genesis 1:30, Genesis 1:28, Jeremiah 29:5-7). Every species, indeed all creation, is precious because it is made by God. All reflect an aspect of God. “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the Earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).
This is why we lament that God’s creatures are disappearing from the Earth at a rate we can scarcely comprehend. From humble insects to majestic mammals, from microscopic plankton to towering trees, plants and creatures from across God’s dominion are becoming extinct, and may never be seen again.
This devastation is, in itself, a tragic loss. We contemplate this loss and pray that it ends. We also pray for justice, as the most vulnerable among us suffer most deeply as the web of life begins to unravel. Our faith calls us to respond to this crisis with the urgency born of moral clarity.
Season of Creation Celebration Guide, pp. 5-6.
This year the theme of the Season of Creation, chosen by its international steering committee, is “The Web of Life: Biodiversity as God’s Blessing,”a theme that resonates with the important and popular message of Pope Francis that everything is connected. We are all strands in the one great Web of Life.
Since the Catholic community is new to the Season of Creation celebration, it does not yet have seasonal liturgical texts proper to it, and many pastors may not feel free to use the ecumenical texts. The materials posted on the Season of Creation 2019 page have been prepared under the auspices of the Global Catholic Climate Movement to help Catholic communities read and pray with the scriptures for the Sundays in Ordinary Time during this period through the lens of the Season of Creation. This year, 2019, this period includes the 22ndthrough 26thSundays in Ordinary Time for Cycle C.
The materials have also been prepared with an eye to the Synod of Bishops taking place at the Vatican immediately after the Season of Creation. It is entitled: The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for Integral Ecology. It will take place October 6-27, 2019. This synod will address the range of major threats to the Amazon, and develop plans for healing pastoral responses.
Why the whole Church Needs to Give Attention to Amazon
The Amazon is unquestionably one of the most important regions of Earth. The size of the 48 contiguous states of the United States of America, it is home to an irreplaceable richness of biodiversity. It makes major contributions to Earth’s atmosphere. It produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen, affecting the very air we breathe and the weather that sets the context and conditions of our lives wherever we are.
The Amazon in turn is affected by the ways people live elsewhere around the planet. The excessive growth of agricultural, extractive, and logging activities in the Amazon region, driven by global consumption demands, has already destroyed an estimated 20% of the rainforest. It is currently vanishing at a rate of approximately 20,000 square miles a year.
The Working Document for the synod states:
- The massive felling of trees, the extermination of the tropical forest by intentional forest fires, the expansion of the agricultural frontier and monocultures are the cause of the current regional climate imbalances, with obvious effects on the global climate, with planetary dimensions such as great droughts and increasingly frequent floods. Pope Francis refers to the Amazon and Congo basins as “lungs of our planet”, underlining the urgency of protecting them (LS 38).
At the current rate of deforestation, the Amazon region, developing over the last 50 million years, could be destroyed by the end of this century.
These and other threats to the Amazon and, therefore, to the global Web of Life, are clearly driven by elements of the cultures, social patterns, and institutions of nations and peoples around the world. They cannot be addressed effectively without changes in values and lifestyles dominant in the global human community outside the Amazon.
For this reason, Pope Francis is calling for global attention, concern, and prayer for the Synod throughout the Season of Creation and during the deliberations of the Synod itself. This gathering, though ostensibly addressing the Church’s response in just one region of the world, must engage the Church around the world if it is to find truly successful lines of pastoral response to the crisis it faces. What is God calling the human community to at this critical time in Earth history wherever we live?
The Bigger Picture: Assumptions Behind These Materials
Drawing on Pope Francis’s important encyclical, Laudato Sí,the working documents in preparation for the Synod on the Amazon, and the rich background of Catholic Social Tradition, these resources assume that the human family is not facing various separate and distinct crises – social, political, cultural, ecological. There is only one complex and integrated socio-cultural ecological crisis requiring prayer, an integral ecological conversion, and action for the healing of the vast Web of Life. Everything is connected.
Ecological Dimension. The ecological dimension of this complex crisis has two important facets: climate change,or what some are calling “climate collapse”,and ecological degradationthrough overproduction and consumption.
Climate Change/Collapse. Fossil fuel use and industrial production over the last century and a half by what are now often referred to as the “developed nations” has, through the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, produced a warming of the planet that is changing the climate everywhere in dynamic and dangerous ways. Increasingly, scientists and religious leaders are referring to the situation as a human-produced climate crisisthat is destroying vast numbers of species and threatening the whole Web of Life on the planet. Storms and wildfires are already more violent, droughts and floods more frequent and damaging, sea levels rising and islands disappearing, and human suffering and tragedy more severe, especially among people who are poor and marginalized.
Ecological Degradation. At the same time, it has become apparent, as ecological awareness has grown, that the human community is now using up more of Earth’s resources in a few months than the planet can replenish in a full year. In 1970, the first attempts were made to measure human production and consumption against Earth’s regenerative capacities. The efforts resulted in the birth of Earth Overshoot Day, a calculation of the point at which as much of Earth’s resources will have been used in a particular year as it can replenish in a full year. In 1970, Earth Overshoot Day was determined to be December 29th. Since then, it has been occurring earlier and earlier. This year, 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was July 29th. In 7 months, the human community has consumed what it will take Earth a year to replenish: resources such as water, food, clean air. For the next 5 months, we will be consuming from the reserves built up by Earth over millennia. This is obviously cannot go on forever. Those reserves are limited. It is a death spiral.
Socio-political-cultural Dimension. Socially, inequality of resources is stark and dangerous around the world. A small number of extremely wealthy people control as much wealth as half the human community of more than 7 billion people. Nearly one billion people lack adequate food and are chronically hungry, even malnourished, and that number is again growing. The poor suffer most from climate change/collapse and are increasingly forced to migrate in search of food, security, and other basic essentials. Millions of people are now climate migrants or refugees, adding to the social pressures and unrest in so many parts of the world.
Some Basic Inferences to Guide Our Responses. These three dimensions of the current complex crisis support some basic conclusions which will be reflected in the liturgical materials and upon which our responses must be based.
- First, the human community must move to clean, renewable energy as soon as possible to prevent catastrophic climate change that threatens the survival of the intricately interconnected and interdependent Web of Life of which humanity is one strand.
- Second, even with renewable energy, we cannot grow our way out of the severe poverty and great maldistribution of resources in which so many live globally. Those who hold up economic growth as the only way to overcome poverty and hunger are failing (or refusing) to face the reality of Earth’s resource limitations and the current death spiral of overproduction laid bare by the data behind Earth Overshoot Day.
- Third, this requires critique and rejection of the current dominant economic model with its assumptions about “development”, “progress”, economic growth, and “the good life.” These guide and govern the current destructive patterns of life. The human community needs instead to give priority to dignified human life for all, especially the most vulnerable, and care for the environment. The quality of relationships, commitment to the common good, and global solidarity characterize authentic human development, the true “good life,” in Catholic Social Tradition, not the accumulation of industrial and political power, material goods and wealth.
- Fourth, these changes demand what Pope Francis has called “integral ecological conversion.”Such conversion will require cross-cultural encounter and dialogue that feed a spirituality of global solidarity, freedom from consumerism, growing consciousness of the interconnectedness of all creation, gratitude, and contentment with what is really necessary. [Cf. Synod Preparatory Document, #13]
In short, the human family must reduce its global consumption and waste, return to patterns of living compatible with Earth’s resources and regenerative capacities, rethink what constitutes the good human life and how to reach it, and redistribute or redirect available wealth and resources to meet the basic needs of the whole human family, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, and the full Web of Life.
Diversity of the Communities of Faith
Resources prepared for a global network like the Global Catholic Climate Movement must be adaptable to many different social, cultural and economic contexts. No single text can be expected to speak to such vast diversity without careful and prayerful local interpretation and adaptation.
For example, communities engaging the Season of Creation this year will include indigenous peoples and those marginalized and struggling to survive. There will be comfortable and rising middle class communities eager to achieve and enjoy more affluent lifestyles of “developed nations.” There will be middle and working classes in industrial nations living in contexts where cultural dynamics and institutional factors guide and promote economic systems built on consumerism, growth, and constant upward mobility defined by material goods, what Pope Francis has called “throwaway societies.” There will be extremely wealthy and powerful economic and political elites. There will be communities of people deeply conscious of their connections with nature, their place in the Web of Life. And there will be communities of people whose consciousness is bounded by urban life, unconscious of their place in the vast interconnected and interdependent web of all life. The list could go on.
In the case of these notes for liturgical celebrations, for example, communities in wealthier nations or wealthier segments of poor nations will be challenged to face their participation in the lifestyles and assumptions about development, progress and economic growth that are contributing to the current crisis. Their ecological conversion will involve serious reevaluation of how they live day to day, what they see as “development” and “progress,” and what their attitudes toward poor and indigenous peoples are and need to become. Embracing global solidarity, renouncing consumerism and simplifying lifestyles, and working for sustainable justice for all people are elements of their challenging prophetic call from God.
On the other hand, communities living in poverty need to find ways to increase their consumption to meet basic human needs. But they may need to pray over the fact that the lifestyles and wealth of the industrial nations are illusionary as a goal, as alluring as they might seem. The way to a better life cannot be through economic growth and technological progress as modeled by the so-called developed nations of the industrial world. It must be through greater justice, sustainability, and solidarity. Their ecological conversion may entail letting go of unrealistic material dreams for their future and that of their families and communities. It may involve efforts to grow in appreciation of and gratitude for the values that they, indigenous peoples and poor communities, have nurtured and relied upon – virtues of solidarity and mutual support, respect and care for nature, living in harmony with creation sustainably. Pope Francis assumes that it will involve their recognizing and affirming their traditional wisdom, cultural values and ways of living – recognizing them as true and essential elements of authentic human development, ready to share them and promote them in dialogue.
All communities will find in the liturgies of this Season of Creation prophetic challenges and an invitation from God to shape a different future for our Web of Life, our common home. Different communities, different cultures may hear different challenges, different invitations, their particular part of the great work of the Holy Spirit birthing the new creation in these times. Local liturgical/pastoral teams will need to be conscious of the characteristics and social location of their own specific communities as they work to discern God’s Word to them. Only then will they be able to use and adapt the materials included here appropriately.
The materials for each of the liturgies of the Sundays of the 2019 Season of Creation that follow will include four elements:
- Short Introductory Comments setting the context and focusing on the messages of the scriptures as they relate to the Season of Creation’s focus on integral ecological conversion and the Web of Life. These introductions could be read as they are or adapted for brief introductory comments at the beginning of a liturgy.
- Suggestions for the penitential rite. It should be noted that although the Roman Missal gives various optional formulations for the penitential rite, it also allows for “other invocations.” The suggestions included in these materials help to focus the community’s repentance on the issues addressed by the scriptural messages of the day.
- Points for reflection on the scriptures. These points are not offered as an outline or text for a homily. Local contexts, cultures, and issues are too diverse to permit that kind of presentation. They are points for reflection drawn from the Sunday scriptures read against the background of the Season of Creation and the Synod on the Amazon. They are meant to inspire or suggest issues for homilists to consider in their preparations or for anyone’s personal reflection and prayer. The questions included can help homilists reflect on their own experience. In addition, they may in many cases be fruitfully posed to their congregations for their own prayerful consideration.
- A related petition[s] suitable or adaptable for the General Intercessions.
N.B. The materials for each of the Sundays can be found among the posts listed on the Season of Creation 2019 page. Materials for the following Sunday will be posted early each week.
James E. Hug, S.J.