On August 6, Pope Francis announced to the whole Church, “I have decided to institute in the Catholic Church the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” which, beginning this year, is to be celebrated on 1 September, as has been the custom in the Orthodox Church for some time.”
In his letter announcing the Day of Prayer, Pope Francis explained, “The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation 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.”
The Pope emphasized that this Day of Prayer is for everyone: “it can be properly celebrated with the participation of the entire People of God: priests, men and women religious and the lay faithful.” By choosing a date already established in the Orthodox churches, Pope Francis clearly shows his intention to invite believers throughout the ecumenical and interreligious world to be united in reflection and prayer for the care of God’s creation, which all people share.
How might individuals and families live this day?
In an article in the August 21, 2015 issue of America magazine, The Ecological Examen, Joseph P. Carver, S.J. suggests that one way for individuals to participate prayerfully for the Care of Creation is to use the traditional Ignatian Examen with a focus on our relationship with creation. He outlines the process in this way:
The five movements in the ecological examen parallel the traditional examen. We begin with thanksgiving and gratitude for all creation, which reflects the beauty and blessing of God’s image. We ask: Where was I most aware of this gift today? Second, we specifically request to have our eyes opened by the Spirit as to how we might protect and care for creation. Third, we review the challenges and joys experienced in this care, asking: How was I drawn into God today through creation? How was I being invited to respond to God’s action in creation? Fourth, we ask for a true and clear awareness of our sinfulness, whether it be a sense of superiority and arrogance in our relationship to creation or a failure to respond to God in the needs of creation. Finally, we end in hope: asking for hope in the future, asking for the grace to see the incarnate Christ in the dynamic interconnections of all creation.
I always conclude my examen with the prayer of Jesus: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:22–23). This prayer invites conversion and reminds us that all serious solutions to the ecological crisis of our time include the demand that we human beings change our thinking, relationships and behaviors so that we may be woven into the unity of creation.
In his Encylical on the Environment, Laudato Si, Pope Francis offers many suggestions on how “Care for God’s Creation” can be lived, from the highest levels of political and economic leadership and decision-making to the choices of individuals and families. On the personal/ family level, he invites us to recognize that we are part of a much larger whole, which not only includes other people, but, ultimately, all of creation. This challenges us to consider our lifestyle, our use of God’s creation (especially as consumers in a consumer-driven economy), our commitment to care for God’s creation in our choices, and also our participation as citizens and members of the community in word and action to influence political and economic choices and actions to better care for God’s creation. In this respect, the examen (see above) can be helpful.
As for personal prayer, Pope Francis quotes St. Francis of Assisi’s beautiful Canticle of the Sun (Canticle of the Creatures), surely an appropriate prayer for the day. At the end of his Encyclical, Pope Francis includes two prayers, A Prayer for our Earth and A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation. Making a special effort to pray these three prayers sometime during the day especially during a visit, walk, quiet time somewhere outdoors, at the park or even the backyard can be a worthy way to participate in this first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.
Finally, let us remember the exhortation of the letter of James that we be “doers of the word, not hearers only.” (James 1: 22) It is only when we live what we pray, that our desire to care for God’s creation can bear fruit.