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The first anniversary of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home, was celebrated globally in 2016 with an international week of prayer, education, reflection, and action. This is far from the usual treatment for a papal social encyclical! It is a tribute to Pope Francis’s activist spirit and broad appeal – and to the fact that ordinary people around the planet are painfully aware of the urgency of the issues he raises so accessibly, so forcefully, so well.
Each year since its publication, a similar Laudato Si’ week of prayer, education and action has been organized with activities around the world networked on social media. May 16-24, 2020 is Laudato Si’ week, celebrating the fifth anniversary of this significant encyclical. Once again Catholics are active in many different ways and places educating, advocating, convening the human family in prayer and action.
Laudato Si’ remains a timely and forceful call to the human family to develop an integral ecology responding to the urgent cry of the poor and cry of Earth. Interconnected dynamics and patterns of human activity threatening the life and wellbeing of this planetary community are giving rise to these joint and urgent cries for change. Laudato Si’ is a call to conversion. It is an invitation to develop and live a healthy, broad-based ecological spirituality to inspire, nurture, guide and energize the important work of healing Earth and the human family, changing our destructive habits, and re-creating the way we live together on our common home.
Francis showed his pastoral experience and wisdom in Laudato Si’ by insisting that the major social and cultural changes that must take place in a short period of time will require education and spiritual development, both personal and communal. Materials for personal reflection and prayer are emerging widely from all faith traditions.
Liturgical resources for developing, nurturing and expressing that kind of mature spiritual consciousness and growth, however, are difficult to find. Jesus’s contemplative reflections on God’s care for the birds of the air or the beauty of the wild flowers in the field are standard texts for ecologically-focused prayer times. And there are some beautiful psalms. But generally the Catholic Church lacks liturgical resources for nurturing the ecological transformation that Francis is calling for and the human family so desperately needs.
Liturgical theologians in other Christian denominations have called for, begun to develop new ecologically-themed materials around a creation-focused selection of biblical texts, and offer them for broad use. In 2019 Pope Francis encouraged the Catholic community to celebrate a Season of Creation annually from September 1st through October 4th. But there are few if any signs of Catholic efforts to prepare official liturgical texts and lectionary materials for the Season. We cannot afford a glacial development and approval process if we hope to develop a healthy, broad-based ecological spirituality in time to reverse current destructive approaches to nature and prevent devastating global suffering.
Until these materials can be developed and made widely available, the challenge given by Pope Francis to nurture this spirituality must be taken up by liturgical planners and celebrants locally. That can happen if they bring to their liturgical preparations a deliberately broad consciousness of the global ecological context of life and liturgy as Pope Francis describes it. The current weekly liturgical texts must be consciously read as addressing the social and ecological context of our lives in the midst of the whole human family and at the heart of the complex and interrelated systems of Earth, our common home.
Over the last several years, the Dominican Center has carried on that kind of liturgical reflection and offered homily notes. Different examples can be found under Scriptural Reflections for Sundays of the Season of Creation on its website. The most complete effort to develop useful liturgical materials for the Sundays of the Season of Creation took place last year. Introductory comments, penitential rite suggestions, points for homiletic reflection on the scriptures for those Sundays, and a suggested intercession or two were prepared and can be seen under the Liturgical Seasons section on the website at Season of Creation 2019.
These materials illustrate clearly that the context within which we consciously reflect and pray with biblical texts has a profound impact on the revelation we discover for our lives in the world today. Too often that context is limited to the personal or, at best, interpersonal dimensions of our lives. Consciously opening our minds and hearts to the full global and cosmic context in which we live will allow the vision and values of the Word of God to resonate more powerfully. It will open to us a more adequate sense of the guiding revelation of God for the human family here and now and the gospel mission being entrusted to us in this critical time.
More adequate liturgical texts, as they emerge, will eventually be able to help us grow in that consciousness and in a communal spirituality that will nourish our integral ecological conversion, inspiring and energizing us in our common care for Earth. May they come soon. And may they be in accessible language that will open the eyes and touch the hearts of ordinary people everywhere.
In the meantime, we can and must read the Word and celebrate Eucharist conscious of our common home, our cosmic context, and our integral ecological mission.
James E. Hug, SJ