Pray for Religious Freedom

Aaron Weldon,  Religious Liberty Program Specialist, USCCB

We come to enjoy true freedom when our restless hearts find rest in the truth. The great twentieth century philosopher, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – or, Edith Stein – discovered truth in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, and sought freedom by entering the Discalced Carmelites.  The convent didn’t stop her from reaching out.  During the rise of Nazism, Stein spoke up. She wrote to Pope Pius XI asking the Church to speak up on behalf of persecuted Jews, and she wrote her autobiography, Life in a Jewish Family, “as a way to combat racial hatred.”  She was captured in 1942 and taken to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chamber shortly after arrival.  Stein was executed primarily because she was Jewish, and the Catholic Church considers her a Christian martyr, because she bore witness to her faith in Jesus before her executioners.

Having spent much of my life in the university, I admire Edith Stein. Her intellectual vocation led her to faith, her relationship with God led her to prayer, and her life of prayer was bound up with her outreach to others.  She enjoyed an interior freedom that opened out to service.

We can grow in both interior freedom and solidarity with others through prayer. In prayer, we express our dependence on God, and we take on the burdens of those for whom we pray.  During this Fortnight, here is how I will be praying:

  • For Bishops and all Catholic leaders. Many Christians may not realize religious liberty is an issue, because they don’t experience an infringement on their own freedom. But the issue is real for medical professionals like Cathy Decarlo, a nurse who was forced to participate in an abortion, or for ministries that serve immigrants in states prohibiting the “harboring” of undocumented persons. Pastors and leaders face serious challenges, and they need the wisdom and courage of the Holy Spirit. We can pray for them.
  • For Christians facing violent persecution. In the West, we are dealing with what Pope Francis calls “polite persecution.” Polite persecution is real, but it pales in comparison to the struggles of Christians in Pakistan, Syria, and other places. In the face of this suffering, it can be difficult for most of us to know what we can do. Certainly, we can support organizations, like Aid to the Church in Need, that work to assist Christians under extreme duress in places like Iraq. We can also pray for our brothers and sisters, as well as for the conversion of the persecutors.
  • For non-Christian fellow Americans. Religious freedom is a fundamental freedom, rooted in the nature of the human person. So all people must be immune from coercion, free to pursue the truth and live the truth as best as they understand it. Many Americans are impeded in their search. For example, Muslims have faced challenges in recent years. Several states have passed anti-Sharia laws, local governments have tried to use zoning laws to prevent the construction of houses of worship, and the White House has imposed a travel ban that courts have found is aimed at preventing Muslims from entering the country. These actions give rise to a culture in which Muslims are treated as second-class citizens. As Catholics, we should be aware of these challenges, as we ourselves have been the target anti-Catholic bigotry. That bigotry gave us Blaine Amendments that we are still fighting today. Religious freedom for all does not mean we are resigned to relativism; it simply means that governments do not get to coerce people in matters of faith. It means that the state recognizes a space for non-state institutions, and this is the same space we Christians enjoy to propose the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Please join me in praying for our neighbors, co-workers, and fellow Americans, that we all will be free to seek and live out religious truth.

Aaron Matthew Weldon is Religious Liberty Program Specialist for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Praying for Conscience and Courage

Bible Group Praying Together Holding Hands With Eyes ClosedI read a prayer recently, titled “Prayer for Conscience and Courage” by Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister. I was struck by the title and even more by the prayer. What does it mean to pray for “conscience”?  Isn’t a conscience simply what all of us have, that is, a working conscience that somehow lets us know what is right and what is wrong?

By Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the education of the conscience is a lifelong task” (No. 1784), so we know it is important to learn and form our conscience with Scripture and Catholic teaching.  But prayer for conscience — how does that fit?

Again, in the catechism we read, “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice” (No. 1785). So, in order to educate our consciences, we need to pray with Scripture. We pray that we can become what it is God is dreaming for us. Right?

The prayer begins with the words, “Loving God, lead us beyond ourselves to care…”  Then, I had a light-bulb moment when I read more of the prayer:

“Give us the conscience it takes to comprehend what we’re facing, to see what we’re looking at and to say what we see so that others, hearing us, may also brave the pressure that comes with being out of public step.”

So, this prayer is written to help us in this difficult time — a time of great uncertainty and change. Sister Joan is suggesting that we pray, asking God to give us wisdom — God’s wisdom — to help us see what is happening around us and in our world as God sees it and act accordingly.

Doing this kind of prayer is not something we automatically do. We pray for someone who is sick, for personal things we need or are worried about, but we do not often pray for a conscience that is awake, open to seeing as God sees and open to acting on that seeing. More often, we see the world through a lens that thinks more of personal needs than of the needs of all, or the common good, as Jesus and our church teaches us.

I think about poverty. Do we have a conscience that helps us see poverty as God does?

Here are a couple of people I believe have a conscience that helps them see as God sees.

Pope Francis says this: “The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children … without an education, so many poor persons.”

Dorothy Day said: “We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it,” and “Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”

Mother Teresa said: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

Is this the way you see poverty?  Maybe each of us has a way to go to think of poverty the way these “saints” do, but it’s important that our conscience is moving us in that direction, one step at a time.

Years ago, I had the honor of meeting a priest who had a parish in the middle of a poverty-stricken, gang-infested part of Los Angeles called Dolores Mission. At the beginning of his work there, a group of mothers came to him, to inform his “conscience” and call him to action as they spoke to him of their fear for their sons’ lives. Gangs had taken over the neighborhood and there was a lot of violence between rival gangs.

Father Greg heard the mothers and let their love inform his conscience, and he has worked in his ministry to gang members for over 30 years.  When I think of someone who has a well-formed conscience and someone who sees poverty and gang members as God sees them, I know it is Father Greg Boyle.

When speaking of the attitude we should have about poverty, he says, that we should  “seek a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

Along with a well-formed conscience, Sister Joan added a prayer for courage. It makes sense considering that we are to follow Jesus and the radical love he showed to all of God’s people, especially those people who others shunned.  We can’t do that on our own. We need God’s help.

Join me in a prayer for conscience and courage as we remember who Jesus was and what he sacrificed for all of creation.

Kathy Langer is director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

This blog post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Visitor of the Diocese of Saint Cloud.


Going Deeper!

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops remind us that conscience formation is a “lifelong task” (no. 5).  Read this handout (also in Spanish) and read this Scripture reflection (also in Spanish) on the ongoing task of forming our consciences.

Lent: A Journey of Encounter

 Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

We Encounter Ourselves

To build a culture of encounter, we must start from within ourselves, from our personal call to discipleship. God knows our true selves, desiring that we, too, discover the person God has called us to be. Through prayer, we encounter ourselves before God; we see ourselves as God sees us. And we realize that God delights in every member of our human family because God is truly present in each of us.

Jesus reminds us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To love another, we must come to know our own selves, our own hurts and triumphs, our own joys and challenges. What begins as an interior encounter necessarily goes beyond ourselves, challenging us to live in solidarity with people we may never meet.  How can we hope to go to the margins, to accompany those who are most vulnerable and in need, if we haven’t properly wrestled with our own vulnerability, our own need? Only then can we recognize that each person we encounter can share with us some unique insight about our world, about ourselves and, ultimately, about our God.

We meet Jesus in the desert, a time of introspection and discernment before he begins his ministry. What has he gone there to accomplish? Luke tells us that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” There he fasts and prays—and the Enemy takes that opportunity to tempt Christ with those temptations we each encounter daily: material comfort, honor and pride.

Jesus responded by trusting in God, by emptying himself of pride and power and ultimately rejecting the invitations of the Enemy.

We, too, can better understand where we are broken and turning away from who we are called to be by following Jesus’ example and encountering ourselves through prayer and fasting. We may not go into a desert for forty days, but we can and should take the forty-day invitation of Lent as an opportunity to reorient our lives, examining how we are living in relationship with God and our neighbors.

That might mean coming to terms with troubling or disappointing truths. Can we, like Jesus, radically reject the offering of power, of influence? We all want glory, praise, a pat on the shoulder, but as Jesus turned away from the Enemy’s offering, so too must we. And then, where do we turn? We go to the margins with humility and compassion. Only by encountering ourselves can we then encounter our neighbors.

Eric ClaytonEric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and stories from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Prayer can open our hearts and minds to God’s love and compassion for every person—no matter who they are. Read about this youth pro-life team, whose prayer for those on death row helps the entire community reflect on our commitment to protect all human life.

This Lent, use this Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (also en Español) to encounter God’s love and forgiveness, and to help us discern how to better love those on the margins, whom God loves.

Finding God in the Aftermath of the Presidential Election

Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM

Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM

Tuesday night, Nov. 8, I stayed awake past midnight, anxious to find out the results of the Presidential Election. Finally, I rested my weary head on a pillow. “O God where are you in the midst of all this?” I sighed. “And what do you want me to do?”

I got an answer a few days later when, out of the blue, an image and a story popped into my mind. That image was one of Giotto’s frescos in the Upper Church of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. The fresco tells a story. St. Francis was passing by the city of Arezzo, which was in a grip of an intense conflict. According to the story written by St. Bonaventure, “St. Francis saw a multitude of demons rejoicing over the city and instigating the angry citizens to destroy each other.” The people were deeply divided along economic, social, and political fault lines. Many felt disempowered. That disempowerment, in turn, gave rise to fear, resentment and hatred. It bred mistrust, mutual demonization, and even violence.

In response to that scene, St. Francis sent Br. Sylvester as his herald to preach a message of peace. On the fresco, you see Br. Sylvester standing in front of the city of Arezzo while St. Francis, down on his knees, is in a deep contemplative prayer. As a result of the intervention of the two friars, “the tumult in the city was appeased, and all the citizens, in great tranquility, began to revise the statutes and regulations of the city, so that they might be duly observed. Thus, the fierce pride of the demons, which had enslaved the miserable city, was overcome by the wisdom of the poor. The humility of Francis restored it to peace and safety.” The fresco depicts the demons fleeing Arezzo.

In this post-election season in America, there are – and I’m speaking figuratively – demons hovering over our cities and the entire nation. They are the demons of fear, callousness, and incivility. Those demons incite intolerance, discrimination, personal, and systemic violence.

What can we do to follow the lead of the two medieval Franciscan friars who put evil to flight?

I’d like to offer three observations and suggestions:

  1. St. Francis and Br. Sylvester were contemplatives in action. Francis was, down on his knees, praying. Likewise, our efforts for justice and peace must go hand-in-hand with cultivating prayer and contemplation. Only by going deeper will we be able to draw on these inner resources. Only then will we have the power to deal with fear, anger and helplessness. Only then will we be able to let go of the rigid ideologies that shackle us and hinder us on our path toward the Kingdom of God.
  2. St. Francis   and Br. Sylvester didn’t flee from the conflict – they took personal risks and engaged that conflict with compassion, creativity, and courage. They brought opposing groups of Arezzo’s citizens into a civil discourse. Are we willing to follow their lead? As a response to the 2016 Presidential Election, Franciscan Action Network invites us to make this make this commitment to Civility in Dialogue:
  • Facilitate a forum for difficult discourse and acknowledge that dialogue can lead to new insight and mutual understanding.
  • Respect the dignity of all people, especially of those who hold an opposing view.
  • Audit yourself and utilize terms or a vocabulary of faith to unite or reconcile rather that divide conflicting positions.
  • Neutralize inflamed conversation by presuming that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith.
  • Collaborate with others and recognize that all human engagement is an opportunity to promote peace.
  • Identify common ground, such as similar values or concerns, and utilize this as a foundation to build upon.
  • Support efforts to clean up provocative language by calling policy makers to their sense of personal integrity.
  1. According to the biography of St. Francis, the devils fled the city of Arezzo when its citizens sat down together in a civil dialogue and “began to revise the statutes and regulations of the city.” The key point here is that an authentic dialogue leads to restorative justice. The 1971 World Synod of Bishops reminds us that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” The Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation ought to compel the ordinary Christians – men, women, youth, and children – to civic engagement, and not just during times of elections but throughout the year.

I hope that, just like St. Francis and Br. Sylvester, our faith communities will continue to inspire and empower people to live out a Gospel that is not truncated but, rather, is inclusive of civic engagement.

So, where is God in this tumultuous post-election period?

As typical of our God of surprises, he might be waiting to be found in your commitment to deeper prayer and contemplation, in your pledge to civility in dialogue, and in the tenacity with which you stay engaged in various community or advocacy efforts without giving in to despair or cynicism. I know it gets tough. But God believes in you.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM was born and grew up in Poland. After immigrating into the U.S. in 1988, he joined Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province and obtained a Master of Divinity degree from Washington Theological Union. For the past eight years, he has been ministering at the St. Camillus multicultural parish in Silver Spring, M.D. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Franciscan Action Network and he is involved in the Archdiocese of Washington Care for Creation committee.


Going Deeper!

Catholics around the country are involved in efforts to transform their communities on a year-round basis. Learn what ongoing faithful citizenship looks like by visiting the WeAreSaltAndLight.org Success Stories page, where you can learn how faith communities are working on racial justice, predatory lending, immigration, caring for God’s creation, and more.

7 Ways to Be a Good Steward of the Harvest

“The earth has yielded its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.”

— Psalm 67:7

Koubra Mahamat Abakar, 44 years old, and her daughters harvest fresh fruit and vegetables in her community garden based in Kournan village, Chad. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Koubra Mahamat Abakar, 44 years old,  harvests fresh fruit and vegetables in her community garden based in Kournan village, Chad. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Fall, the season of harvest, is the perfect time to reflect on the Earth’s abundance. Yet, not all people have their share of the abundance God has given us. Approximately 800 million people suffer from hunger worldwide.

On October 16, World Food Day 2016 takes these overlapping issues into account with its theme, “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” As the pope reminds us in Laudato Si’, we must recognize our call to respond to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” In observance of World Food Day, we invite you to use the following seven steps in your daily life to become a better steward of Earth’s harvests:

  1. Waste less. Did you know that one-third of the food produced for human consumption is either lost during production or wasted by consumers? When we waste food, we’re discarding food that could have fed our hungry brothers and sisters. Food waste also has a grave environmental impact, as it accounts for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. SaveTheFood.com has tips on how to reduce food waste, including information on proper storage of produce, advice on freezing leftovers and guides for planning meals so you’re sure to eat everything you buy.
  2. Eat simply. It takes 8 times more water to produce 1 pound of beef than to produce 1 pound of soybeans. Eating meat-free, even if only for a couple of days each week, puts less of a strain on Earth’s resources and makes more food and water available for our human family. Check out CRS Rice Bowl’s archive of meatless meal recipes for delicious ways to eat simply!
  3. Support farmers. Buying food locally is not only a great way to support the livelihoods of farmers in your community, but it also reduces your carbon footprint, since your food isn’t being transported great distances to be sold. Find a farmers market near you!
  4. Advocate. U.S. policies impact people worldwide. Let Congress know you care about hunger by lending your voice to support policies that help the most vulnerable.
  5. Donate. CRS is partnering with farmers around the world whose incomes have been jeopardized by the changing environment. These farmers are learning new skills and techniques so that they are still able to generate an income and put food on the table. By supporting CRS, you are supporting these farmers and others who face the effects of natural disaster and hunger.
  6. Learn more. Building awareness about hunger and changing weather patterns is an essential step toward positive change. Take some time to educate yourself and your community on these issues and the many ways that they are connected to each other.
  7. Pray. Prayer helps us to be in right relationship, not only with God and our neighbor, but also with all of creation. Use CRS’ “Live Mercy: Feed the Hungry” small group faith-sharing resource to help your community reflect on this important issue. Or, pray this short prayer before meals to remain mindful of the harvest that we’re called to steward and share.

CRS Helping Hands is a meal-packaging program for Catholic parishes, schools and universities. Learn how to bring CRS Helping Hands to your community!


 

HeadshotRachel Malinowski is a US Operations program officer with Catholic Relief Services, operating out of CRS headquarters in Baltimore.  She works on Helping Hands, among other programs. 

Replacing “Clamorous Discord” With Love and Mercy

In this past Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in a time of “strife” and “clamorous discord” (Hb. 1:3), cries out to God for assistance. God urges him to wait faithfully, for the “the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (2:4).

In the heat of this election season—with its “clamorous discord” and “rash” words—Habakkuk’s plight takes on a new meaning. When inflammatory rhetoric, uncivil accusations, and personal attacks abound, the temptation can be to turn off the news, shut the newspaper, and ignore the Twitter feed for the next four weeks.

But Sunday’s Gospel challenges us. At the beginning of the Gospel reading, the apostles implore Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5). They are responding to Jesus’ challenge in the verse prior: “If [your brother] wrongs you seven times in one day and returns seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him” (17:4).

How difficult the challenge of forgiveness sounds to them! Yet, Jesus responds to their request for increased faith: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (17:6).

Clearly, prayer rooted in deep faith can make the impossible a reality.

We are called to bring this Gospel challenge to our current situation. At this long moment in our country when mercy, forgiveness, and love seem to be completely missing in the public square, we must utter the apostles’ prayer: “Increase our faith!”

When faced with the temptation to withdraw or disengage from public life, we must pray, “Increase our faith!”

When, in our conversations with others, we ourselves feel the urge to refuse to model the respect we want to see; or to attack the person instead of discussing the issue; or to use inflammatory language; we must call out, “Increase our faith!”

As followers of Christ, we are called to think and act differently, approaching dialogue with a spirit of love and respect for the dignity of others. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers these guidelines for dialogue within families. They would be truly transformational if applied in the public square as well.

In response to our cry, “Increase our faith!,” we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we may model love and mercy in our families, at our workplaces, and in the public square. We must also urge candidates and elected officials to engage in dialogue that is civil and respectful.

Civil dialogue means that when speaking with others with whom we disagree:

  • We should begin with respect.
  • We should decide neither to degrade the persons, characters, and reputations of others who hold different positions from our own, nor spread rumors, falsehoods, or half truths about them.
  • We should be careful about language we use, avoiding inflammatory words and rhetoric.
  • We should not assign motives to others. Instead, we should assume that our family members, friends, and colleagues are speaking in good faith, even if we disagree with them.
  • We should listen carefully and respectfully to other people.
  • We should remember that we are members of a community, and we should try to strengthen our sense of community through the love and care we show one another.
  • We should be people who express our thoughts, opinions, and positions—but always in love and truth.

 

If we can model Christ’s love in our civil dialogue, we can begin to change the negative climate in our country during this election season, and beyond.

Increase our faith!


Going Deeper

As an individual and as a family, reflect on Pope Francis’ guidelines on dialogue and consider how you can put them into practice in your own conversations.

Encourage civil dialogue in your parish. Include the civil dialogue insert in your bulletins in English and Spanish.

Show the video reflections by Cardinal Wuerl and by Franciscan Media on civil dialogue at the end of Mass, in a place where parishioners gather, or as part of scheduled parish events

The Enchantment of Assisi

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Thirty years ago in Assisi, on October 27, 1986, Pope John Paul II sponsored a historic meeting among the world’s religious leaders to pray for peace. “On that day I heard the world’s heart-beat,” said a cardinal. To describe the historic event, the Polish Pope coined the term “spirit of Assisi” and the meetings with world religious leaders have been repeated by popes ever since.

Last week it was up to the Pope called Francis, who broke a one-thousand-year tradition in papal nomenclature to honor the saint of Assisi[1], to sponsor the event. The “spirit of Assisi” and its call for ecumenical unity was already evident in the ecological encyclical Laudato si’, named after a canticle pronounced by the Umbrian saint. Humility, simplicity, brotherhood, and care for the poor and for creation have all been hallmarks of the current papacy. In fact, a quick look at the ecclesial landscape of today gives the impression that St. Francis seems as relevant and revolutionary as he was eight hundred years ago when he walked through the forests of Umbria.

Speaking from personal experience, it almost feels like Francis is living and breathing in those forests to this day. This summer I walked the Via Francigena (Franciscan Way) from Rome to Assisi along the very same paths travelled by the saint. From the moment I encountered the first Franciscan shrine on the Via, the monastery called La Foresta (the forest), I felt like I had stepped into an enchanted world. At La Foresta one can kneel in the ancient chapel where Francis prayed and wind down into the cave where he composed the famous Canticle of the Sun, Laudato si’… This enchanted aura persisted for the next ten days as I weaved my way through olive groves and medieval villages all the way to La Verna in Tuscany, where St. Francis received the stigmata.

Perhaps I was so struck by this enchantment because of the contrast with the empty sterility of the world outside[2]. This sense of loss and indifference in the world was the point of Pope Francis’ prophetic address last week at the birthplace of his namesake: “God asks this of us, calling us to confront the great sickness of our time: indifference. It is a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervour, giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism: the paganism of indifference.”

St. Francis, with his life and witness, proposed an antidote to the malaise of indifference. As a young wealthy man, Francis of Assisi was “upset” with the opulence of his time and decided to live a life of simplicity. The Pope suggests that St. Francis associated the indifference to the suffering of the poor with the indifference shown to Jesus himself: it was the love of Christ who was being rejected. The Pope explained: “ ‘Love is not loved’; this reality, according to some accounts, is what upset Saint Francis of Assisi. For love of the suffering Lord, he was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly (cf. Fonti Francescane, no. 1413). This same reality must be in our hearts as we contemplate Christ Crucified, he who thirsts for love… Before Christ Crucified, ‘the power and wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:24), we Christians are called to contemplate the mystery of Love not loved and to pour out mercy upon the world.”

The key to the enchantment of Assisi is the love that comes from Christ crucified. This is the secret recipe to the grace that flowed from the man of Umbria and enchanted the world around him. Like St. Francis, we are called to do the same: “On the cross, the tree of life, evil was transformed into good; we too, as disciples of the Crucified One, are called to be ‘trees of life’ that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world.” We must be these “trees of life” in a dying world. But concretely, how can this be done?

Pope Francis gave a very specific answer earlier this month: “there is nothing that unites us to God more than an act of mercy…” In this same address which opened the Season of Creation[3] the Pope introduced a new item on the list of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. “So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home. As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a ‘grateful contemplation of God’s world’ (Laudato Si, 214) which ‘allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us’ (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires ‘simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness’ and ‘makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world’ (ibid., 230-31).”

If we want to become “trees of life” in this world, inhaling indifference and exhaling love, we need to unite ourselves to the “Tree of Life”, Jesus Christ.

The small quotidian gestures such as picking up trash, contemplating nature on an afternoon walk, recycling and reusing, enjoying the starlit sky and turning off unnecessary lights can unite us to the gentle reverence of Jesus Christ. This love in action can also lead us to greater awareness of the needs of others and acts of mercy and solidarity towards them.

Like a great Poinciana tree, composed of miniscule leaves that inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, these small acts of love can begin to breathe life into an indifferent world.


Ricardo 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.

Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice Program page.

Check out organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development working for environmental justice.

[1] The last Pope to choose a new papal name was Pope Lando in 913. I am excluding John Paul I who in 1978 chose to honor his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, by combining their names.

[2] The reflection on the disenchantment of modernity is not new, and in the background we can hear the voices of Schiller, Max Weber, Charles Taylor and others who explored the many reasons why life in our secularized modern world can feel stale and empty at times.

[3] The Season of Creation begins on September 1st and ends on October 4th, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.