World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation
“Praise be to you, my Lord.” With these prayerful words, Pope Francis begins his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, which he concludes also with prayer. Now our Holy Father has instituted a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation to be celebrated annually on September 1 in conjunction with the custom of the Orthodox Church.
In his letter establishing this day, Pope Francis says that it “will offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live” (Letter of August 6, 2015). Accordingly, in communion with our Holy Father, the parishes, schools, ministries and faithful of the archdiocesan Church of Washington are asked to observe this day in an appropriate way.
We may be tempted to believe that the environmental challenges before us – including pollution, water shortages, and other forms of ecological degradation which have profound effects on the human family – are beyond our ability to make a difference. All of us, however, can at least pray. Moreover, if we are to be faithful stewards and protectors of our common home and each other, before anything else, such prayer is essential.
As Pope Francis explains: “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself” (Laudato Si’, 66). How effective would our efforts be if God were relegated to secondary status or left out of this equation altogether?
Pope Francis affirms that the “ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things,” and he teaches us that “human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator” (Laudato Si’, 83). Our efforts must begin and end with communion in the Lord.
Our small acts of prayer, seemingly insignificant, find power in the fact that we pray in Christ’s name. When Jesus offered his disciples the instruction on prayer to the Father, he revealed to them the generosity of his love. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-15). We do not endure the struggles of the human condition alone, with success or failure depending entirely on our own personal efforts. Through the gift of the Spirit, the Lord gives us help to meet the challenges of the day.
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.” There are many ways that each of us can observe this World Day of Prayer. We find the fullest expression of the Universal Church at prayer in the Mass. Here also we see how the Eucharist “embraces and penetrates all creation” – through God’s goodness, the gifts we offer, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, become for us the Body and Blood of Christ (Laudato Si’, 236).
Our Holy Father is asking that we orient our hearts to cooperate with God’s design in our relationship with one another and with the natural world. Another way to observe this day is to simply find some time to get out amongst nature, even if it is a small city park. Behold the birds in the sky and the wild flowers in all their splendor (Matthew 6:26-28), see in the person by you a sister or brother, and sing praise to God for the glory of his creation (Psalm 104). You might also take this opportunity for a reflective and prayerful reading of sacred scripture, Laudato Si’ or other Church teachings on the environment.
The Archdiocese of Washington has prepared a number of resources, including a study guide on the encyclical, to help people learn how they can better respond to the call to take care of creation, our common home. These may be found at www.adw.org/creation. Join us also on social media, using #CultivatingCreation, as we share our commitment and experience the solidarity that comes from praying as a community. Through our prayers, and God’s grace, the world can be transformed.