A prayer for creation

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Let me begin with a little known story about the Pope. When Pope Francis was a young priest in Argentina, he was appointed rector of the Jesuit seminary. One of the first things he did was to convert the seminary grounds into a farm where “students collected honey, milked cows, and cleaned out the pigsty [and] where they often met the rector in his plastic boots.” For young Fr. Bergoglio caring for the farm meant learning humility, being in touch with the poor, feeding the hungry, and finding an ideal space for prayer and contemplation – a place where the word of the Gospel became flesh. One could make the case that the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ and integral ecology were already taking shape in his farm experiment. The experiment worked: the seminary boomed and there was a huge increase in vocations.

The idea that Christian prayer must be connected to the created world is also central to Pope Francis’ message for the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”, whose one-year anniversary we celebrate today. Quoting Laudato si’ the Pope reminded us that “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature” and that Christians are called to a profound “spiritual conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Doesn’t this sound like something the Pope could be teaching the seminarians at the farm?

More important than the farm itself is the ideal that lies behind it, which has to do with the relationship between prayer and creation. I will call this ideal “prayer in the flesh”, taken from the title of a talk by Fr. Bergoglio. His point was that some Christians are unaware that they suffer from a modern heresy he calls ‘neodocetism’ and that we need to bring prayer to the level of concreteness, to the level of our bodies. We can pray when we touch the hands of a beggar, walk on trails, clean a pigsty, eat with the hungry, milk a cow, look at the sky, etc. Jesus is present in these moments when our flesh engages everyday reality. As in Bergoglio’s farm, care for creation can serve as a locus for us to live ‘a spirituality of the flesh.’

This summer I took this ideal of ‘prayer in the flesh’ and decided to put it into practice. I invited three young men and a guide to undertake a pioneer pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. In May we left from Rome on foot and walked to Krakow for World Youth Day on July 25th. We walked every day for two-plus months covering over 2000 km (about the distance from Washington, DC to Dallas, TX) along a ‘scenic route’ through Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. This pilgrimage was certainly an experience of prayer for creation: we prayed together and alone, during the day as we walked and stopped at shrines, during Mass and adoration. But we also prayed in creation: through the beauty of landscapes, incredible churches, and art– and prayed in the flesh: through blisters, injuries, weight loss, sores and muscles, and even the in gratitude for the incredible food.

What did I get out of this experience of ‘prayer in the flesh’? So many things which I cannot fit into a short blog post. But I can share one important lesson I learned: patience. You just have to learn patience on a trip like this because everything just takes so long! It would take about two days by car and two hours by airplane to cover the same distance we walked in two months. Impatience, resentment, complaints, weakness, stoicism, grumbling, and long faces don’t really get you any further any faster. All you can do is put on a good face in the morning and walk your ‘today’ until tomorrow comes. If it rains, you take a break. If it rains all day, you get wet. If you go without dinner, you try to get a big breakfast the next morning. You learn that God is in charge and He doesn’t always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need. And this… requires… patience. A long pilgrimage like this is a masterful lesson in patience that is learned because it is lived in the flesh.

The day I arrived in Krakow I gave a presentation about Laudato si’ and our pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. I was lucky to have a brief chat with a cardinal, and he asked me only one question: “So what did you learn about mercy?” After bumbling around for an answer a word came forth from the inside: “patience.” Mercy takes patience, the kind of patience of the father who is waiting, for years, for the prodigal son to arrive. “Merciful like the Father” is also “Patient like the Father” – not anxious or stressed waiting, but hopeful waiting. It’s not the impatience of the prodigal son, nor the resentful and fake patience of the older brother. These are not the rhythms of mercy.

This was the lesson I learned through my ‘prayer in the flesh’ and the one God had in store for me. But Jesus has many lessons in store for each one of us. And, we don’t have to go on long journeys to distant places to find them, but only look at the concrete world around us in the circumstances and places we live, and make a decision to do something incarnate with our prayer: celebrating a meal with friends, gardening, spending an evening in the park with the family, cleaning the garage, or going for a walk. These of course must be accompanied by encounters with Jesus Christ at Mass, adoration, confession, biblical reading, prayer groups, etc. But the Pope’s emphasis lies in the invitation for us to bring our prayer into the flesh.

For this second World Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation the Vatican suggests the following prayers. And the Season of Creation we begin today is a wonderful time for us to bring this prayer into our daily lives.

ricardo simmondsRicardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

10 Practical Ways You Can Care for Creation

Headshot of young woman with short dark hair, glasses, with striped shirt

Yolanda Park, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Stockton

Here in the Diocese of Stockton, California, we are living out our call to care for God’s creation and God’s people. The Environmental Justice Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton sees addressing our concerns about dangerous air quality, responding to our historic drought, and doing our part to fight climate change as essential to caring for the poorest and most vulnerable residents among us. These families contribute the least to environmental damage, but suffer from it the most.

You and your parish can respond to Pope Francis’ Call to Action. Here are 10 practical ways you can protect creation – it will benefit your wallet, your neighbors near and far, and hopefully your spirit as well.

  1. Turn off your engine rather than idling when you are stopped for more than a minute – when dropping kids off at school, waiting for a train, or chatting with the neighbors. This limits the emissions that pollute our air and cause respiratory illnesses like asthma.
  2. Use Fair Trade products to support local artisans and farmers and protect the environment. Learn about Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade and the impact it has on vulnerable communities around the world.
  3. Store food in reusable containers, not plastic wrap or foil, to cut down on your household trash. This kind of waste fills up landfills, litters neighborhoods, and contributes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
  4. Avoid using Styrofoam at your parish functions. Styrofoam can rarely be recycled, and it takes 500 years to decompose in landfills! If you can’t use “real” dishes, opt instead for recyclable or biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils.
  5. Conserve water by shortening shower time, not letting water run when brushing your teeth or washing your car, and ensuring your sprinklers are watering plants, not the sidewalk or street. Consider landscaping that is drought tolerant or resistant to local pests – you’ll save water and limit use of pesticides.
  6. Recycle bottles, cans, plastic, paper, and old electronics. This can also be a great way to raise money for your parish, youth group, or mission trip. Make sure your electronic recycler does not ship e-waste overseas, where components are often dismantled in unsafe conditions or even by children.
  7. Do a home or parish energy audit. You will be able to identify where you can patch air leaks, switch out light bulbs, or improve insulation. You’ll conserve energy, reduce emissions that contribute to climate change, and save money!
  8. Start a parish or community garden. You will eat healthier and can donate the abundance to a local food pantry. This is especially meaningful if you live or worship in a low-income neighborhood, many of which lack access to fresh, healthy food. Compost the garden waste and you’ll have great nutrients to put back into the soil next year.
  9. Suggest and help organize an environmental awareness day at your parish, especially for the World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1st, or as part of October’s Respect Life Month.
  10. Ask your elected representatives to support legislation that limits carbon pollution, protects natural resources, supports international efforts to fight climate change, protects environmental health, or promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy.

These actions may seem small compared to the threat of climate change, but Pope Francis reminds us that “many things have to change of course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.” (Laudato’ Si, 202)

Yolanda Park is Environmental Justice Program Assistant at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Stockton. For more ideas, you can visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or find them on Facebook.


Going Deeper!

Join Pope Francis to care for God’s creation on Sept. 1. Numerous resources for this day are available on the USCCB environmental justice page and the WeAreSaltAndLight.org Laudato Si’ page, including prayers, discussion guides, individual action steps, and more.

10 Tips on Dialogue from Pope Francis: A Challenge to Families…and Candidates?

amoris-fb-meme-5-4In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis calls dialogue “essential” for family life.   His guidelines on dialogue are easily applicable to civil society as well.

Can you imagine how this election cycle might be different if we challenged ourselves, candidates, political parties, commentators, ourselves, and others to follow Pope Francis’ advice?

  1. Recognize the real “importance” and dignity of the other person. Recognize others’ right “to think as they do and to be happy.”  Pope Francis challenges us to acknowledge the values of the other’s “deepest concerns” and what he or she is try to say (no. 138).
  2. Try to understand where the other person is coming from: his or her pain, disappointments, fear, anger, hopes, and dreams (no. 137).
  3. Put yourself in the other’s “shoes”; try to “peer” into his or her heart. This is the starting point for dialogue (no. 138).
  4. Be ready to “listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say.”  Dialogue requires the “self-discipline” of waiting until someone is finished speaking before responding.  And, it means truly listening to what someone else is saying—not planning a comeback before the other person has even finished speaking (no. 137).
  5. “Keep an open mind.” We need not stick to our own “limited ideas and opinions,” but we must “be prepared to change or expand them.” Our goal is “synthesis” that enriches everyone involved in the dialogue.  We don’t seek unity in diversity, Pope Francis says, but rather “reconciled diversity” (no. 139).
  6. Our goal is to advance the common good. Respect and appreciation for the “other” are necessary prerequisites (no. 139).
  7. Try not to offend, and don’t vent. We must choose our words carefully, be sensitive to how others feel, and never seek to inflict hurt. We must also avoid a “patronizing” tone, which “only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others” (no. 139).
  8. Love everyone. “Love,” Pope Francis writes, “surmounts even the worst barriers.”  When we come from a place of love, we can better understand others (no. 140).
  9. Base positions on beliefs and values, not on the desire to “win” an argument or be “proved right” (no. 140).
  10. Pray! True dialogue, Pope Francis reminds us, “can only be the fruit of an interior richness” nourished by our quiet time with God through reading, reflection, prayer, and “openness to the world around us” (no. 141).

These are challenging words from Pope Francis.  How might our own families be different if we took his words to heart? Our parishes?  Our neighborhoods? Ourselves? Our society? The current election cycle?

Pope Francis’ vision is a vision of joy-filled love. Let’s share it!Rauh headshot

Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Go Deeper!

Get more tips and resources on dialogue from the WeAreSaltAndLight.org page on Encounter.

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: The Eucharist Calls Our Families to Transform the World

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

My wife Genevieve used to work at an urban retreat and social justice education center in a poor city, which is in the former convent on the property of a Catholic parish. There were a couple of homeless guys from the neighborhood who would occasionally stop by the center for something to eat. Because youth were often in the building, the center’s security policy didn’t allow the men to come in, but staff members would always prepare a “to go” bag with a sandwich or two and anything else that was in the kitchen.

There was a daily Mass in the chapel across the parking lot from the center, and Genevieve would go before work from time to time. One of the men who came for food most often – I’ll call him Frank – would sometimes be at Mass, too. He would join in the prayer and receive communion with the rest of the assembly.

Genevieve was struck by the fact that while Frank was understandably not allowed to enter the center, he was more than welcome in the church. He was part of the one human family gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic feast; he didn’t have to take this meal to go.

Mass, said the scholar Aidan Kavanagh, is doing the world the way it’s meant to be done. At the end of each liturgical celebration, we are sent forth to make the world more closely resemble the unity that we practice in the sanctuary, where all welcomed to the table and can receive what they need.

Pope Francis makes this connection between the Eucharist and our call to create a more just world in paragraphs 185 and 186 in his brand new apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).

“The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” he writes. “When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.”

Why does Pope Francis talk about the connection between the Eucharist and working for a more just world in a document about the family?

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the celebration of Christ’s self-giving love and sacrifice for us, his brothers and sisters. We are meant to emulate this Eucharistic, others-centered love in our family lives – directed toward our own blood relatives, surely, but also reaching outward to all of God’s children, especially those who are hurting.

Formed by this Eucharistic love, our families can become what Pope Francis calls in the document “vital cell[s] for transforming the world.” Our families are meant to be schools of mercy, where compassion and care for the poor are learned and practiced. I think of my friend Sean, who has devoted his life to Catholic social justice ministry. When he was growing up, his family would help serve a meal at a soup kitchen every single Christmas. Sean doesn’t remember this tradition seeming strange or unusual. “It was just something we did,” he says. He learned mercy in his family and it had a profound impact on the person he has become.

How might the self-giving love we celebrate in the Eucharist be calling your family to work for justice together? What a privileged opportunity we have to respond to the Holy Father’s call!

Michael Jordan Laskey is director of Life & Justice Ministries and vice chancellor for the City of Camden for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. 


Go Deeper!

Read the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia online at the Vatican’s website or order copies through USCCB Publishing.

Learn more about how our faith inspires us to respond as disciples in the world today by watching this short video on WeAreSaltandLight.org.

Few Words and Many Deeds

Headshot of Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., D.Min.

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C.

Pope Francis is calling all to be missionary disciples, to go out and draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ, not simply by words, but by deeds. During Lent, particularly on Fridays, he is witnessing to all how simple it is to do by making informal visits to the poor and the marginalized – a homeless shelter, a nursing home, a drug rehab center. Simple, but very clear actions that show how to live the Works of Mercy in everyday life.

His actions remind me of a member of my religious community who worked in the city streets caring for the poor, but at the same time helping others to recognize ways in which they could work together to be more merciful, charitable, and just. One day this community member met a woman who was physically challenged and nearly homeless. She thought that she was not capable of doing anything worthwhile. He invited her to collaborate with him and together with others – lay people, those in consecrated life, and clergy – they worked in that city to care for those most in need.

The year – 1835,
The city – Rome,
The priest – St. Vincent Pallotti,
The woman – soon to be Blessed Elisabetta Sanna.

St. Vincent Pallotti believed that all are called to be apostles – sent not only to preach, but to care for the suffering in the world since all human beings are in the image and likeness of God. He understood that our actions can be minimal when we do them alone. Instead, he promoted greater collaboration and co-responsibility among all. In a rather polarized world, both of these words can seem quaint and unattainable. But, without collaboration, solidarity cannot happen effectively and without co-responsibility, subsidiarity is not possible. Each person, then, is called to work together with God and with others and recognize who and how best to assist those in need. As Pallotti said,

“Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.”

 

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and Provincial Rector of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines).

Francis, Frontera, Faith and Family

I was blessed to be able to join “Pope Francis VIPs” as they attended a Mass on the United States-Mexico border.

These VIPs were not CEOs, VPs, or celebrities. Rather these VIPs were, as defined by Pope Francis, migrants, undocumented immigrants, unaccompanied minors, and family members separated by massive fences, armed security, and outdated immigration laws and policies.

IMG_3544 croppedPrior to the Mass, we gathered for a couple hours in St. Pius parish hall waiting for our turn to be processed through security. In the hall was an air of nervous enthusiasm, as we really didn’t fully grasp what we were about to experience. The VIPs were excited to meet cardinals, bishops, and Church leadership. There was an obvious gratitude for the work of the Church on immigration and legitimate care for the migrant.

After being processed through security, we were bussed to a levee that separates El Paso, Texas USA and Juarez, Mexico.

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Pope Francis ascends memorial to pray for migrants. Photo taken from the U.S. side of the border.

Heavy on most of our minds were the thousands of people who have died in efforts to cross the border in hope of a better life for themselves and their families. Pope Francis himself spent several minutes of silent prayer on behalf of those lost lives.

In his homily, the Holy Father said: “The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations. Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest. Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure these forms of violence. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are ‘cannon fodder,’ persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs.”

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Painting at Casa de Migrante in Ciudad Juarez

I was reminded that how, when wanting to prove our points, we recite numbers, indices, and statistics, not sharing the human story, overlooking the faces of people and the reality of our shared humanity. This “holy” sharing hit me hardest when persons on the Juarez side of the border and the El Paso side received communion: one God, one Church, one faith, and one family — all sharing simultaneously in the Body of Christ. I heard Pope Francis at the end of his homily when he said “…we can pray, sing, and together celebrate the merciful love that the Lord gives us and that no border can stop us from sharing.”

During the Mass, despite a well-fortified border and active patrolling security, an incredible peace surrounded us, a calmness that was not the result of fences or firearms. For a brief moment, the border was inconsequential. Prayers and supplications flowed on both sides as freely as the birds that circled above us. Together we prayed for generations past and for those yet born. We prayed that their lives may be lived to the fullest, and we remembered that no border can stop us from being one family.

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD and follow on Twitter @EndPovertyUSA.


Go Deeper!

Communities of faith across the United States are taking up Pope Francis’ call to see the names, stories, and families behind the human tragedy of forced migration. Here are just a few:

Francisco, Frontera, Fe y Familia

Tuve la bendición de poder acompañar a las “VIPs del papa Francisco” cuando asistieron a una Misa en la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México.

Estas VIPs (personas muy importantes) no eran directores generales, vicepresidentes o celebridades. Más bien estas VIPs fueron, como las definió el papa Francisco, migrantes, inmigrantes indocumentados, menores no acompañados y miembros de familias separadas por grandes vallas, seguridad armada y leyes y políticas inmigratorias obsoletas.IMG_3544 cropped

Antes de la Misa nos congregamos un par de horas en el salón parroquial de San Pío esperando nuestro turno para pasar el proceso de seguridad. En el salón había un aire de entusiasmo nervioso, ya que realmente no comprendíamos del todo lo que estábamos a punto de experimentar. Las VIPs estaban contentas de reunirse con cardenales, obispos y líderes de la Iglesia. Había una obvia gratitud por el trabajo de la Iglesia en materia de inmigración y cuidado legítimo del migrante.

Después de pasar por el proceso de seguridad, fuimos trasladados en bus hacia un dique que separa El Paso, Texas, Estados Unidos, de Juárez, México.

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Papa Francisco asciende monumento a orar por los migrantes . Foto tomada desde el lado de EE.UU. de la frontera.

En la mente de la mayoría de nosotros estaban muy presentes los miles de personas que han muerto tratando de cruzar la frontera con la esperanza de una vida mejor para sí y sus familias. El propio papa Francisco pasó varios minutos de oración en silencio en nombre de esas vidas perdidas.

En su homilía, el Santo Padre dijo: “Esta tragedia humana que representa la migración forzada hoy en día es un fenómeno global. Esta crisis, que se puede medir en cifras, nosotros queremos medirla por nombres, por historias, por familias. Son hermanos y hermanas que salen expulsados por la pobreza y la violencia, por el narcotráfico y el crimen organizado. Frente a tantos vacíos legales, se tiende una red que atrapa y destruye siempre a los más pobres. No sólo sufren la pobreza sino que además tienen que sufrir todas estas formas de violencia. Injusticia que se radicaliza en los jóvenes, ellos, ‘carne de cañón’, son perseguidos y amenazados cuando tratan de salir de la espiral de violencia y del infierno de las drogas”.

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Mural en la Casa de Migrante en Ciudad Juarez

Me hizo recordar cómo, al querer probar nuestros argumentos, recitamos números, índices y estadísticas, que no comparten la historia humana, que pasan por alto los rostros de las personas y la realidad de nuestra humanidad compartida. Esta compartición “santa” me impactó más cuando las personas del lado de Juárez de la frontera y del lado de El Paso recibieron la comunión: un solo Dios, una sola Iglesia, una sola fe y una sola familia, todos compartiendo al mismo tiempo el Cuerpo de Cristo. Escuché al papa Francisco al final de su homilía cuando dijo: “…podemos orar, cantar y celebrar juntos ese amor misericordioso que el Señor nos da y que ninguna frontera podrá impedirnos compartir”.

Durante la Misa, a pesar de una frontera tan fortificada y el intenso patrullaje de seguridad, una paz increíble nos rodeaba, una calma que no era resultado de los cercos o las armas de fuego. Por un breve momento, la frontera fue intrascendente. Oraciones y súplicas fluían en ambos lados tan libremente como los pájaros que daban vueltas encima de nosotros. Juntos oramos por las generaciones pasadas y por las aún no nacidas. Oramos para que sus vidas puedan ser vividas al máximo, y recordamos que ninguna frontera puede impedirnos ser una sola familia.

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud es el director de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano de la Conferencia Catolica de Obispos de los Estados Unidos.