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Care for Creation

by Father Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M.

During the peak pandemic years of 2020-2021, one phrase we all grew tired of hearing was “Out of an abundance of caution.” Those exact words were used over and over again to announce that some event had been cancelled or would only take place with severe limitations. We came to recognize that phrase as the gateway to disappointment.

Have you noticed another phrase that is now being repeated just as often? I am talking about “Because of climate change.” Weather events that used to happen once every hundred years or once every thousand years are now happening every year. Our earth may be warmer this year than at any other time in the past, and the infrastructure that we built is not designed to handle a planet this hot. Every day it seems we read news stories about the loss of life, the loss of property, the tremendous expense of recovery, and unhealthy air, all “because of climate change.” While some of the causes of the present climate change may be natural and cyclical, most scientists agree that human beings have played a significant role in heating up our home, through deforestation, desertification, and especially greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Climate change not only impacts the human habitat but also the habitat of the rest of God’s creatures. And often its effects are felt most acutely by the poor, who are least able to adapt to change.

In 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrious proclaimed September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Environment. Initially it attracted little attention among Christians. It sounded more like a festival for science nerds than a topic for the pulpit. Little by little, though, as the effects of climate change came to be felt, more Christian denominations began some sort of observance on September 1. Catholic leaders also spoke out about care for creation, but a decisive change occurred in 2015, when Pope Francis issued his encyclical on caring for our common home, Laudato Si. An encyclical is by definition an official teaching of the Catholic Church; but Francis emphasizes in this document that concern for the environment is not optional for Catholics. He calls upon all of us to moderate our lifestyle and to support efforts like recycling, that express our love for God’s creation and reflect our concern for the poor. So now we need to add “ecological sins” to our examination of conscience.

In 2016 Pope Francis and the new Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew jointly proclaimed a Season of Creation, beginning on September 1 and ending on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis, who is popularly associated with a deep kinship with the created world. The religious leaders spoke of the urgency of the situation and the need to take action. Pope Francis expressed the hope that by observing this Season of Creation, we can “awaken our hearts” and move toward “an ecological conversion.” As part of our observance of the Season of Creation, Fr. John Pawlikowski, who has been a member of our Servite Community at Assumption for 25 years, will preach at the 9:00am livestreamed Mass on September 10. His topic will be, “Responding to Laudato Si: A Call to Action.” The livestreamed Mass, as you know, can be viewed later on our YouTube channel (Assumption Catholic Church Chicago) in the “live” section or through our website. Fr. Pawlikowski, Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Catholic Theological Union, is uniquely qualified to speak on this topic, having served on the Vatican’s Ecology Task Force and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Energy Statement. He presently serves on the Parliament of World Religions Climate Action Task Force.

It is not hard to find all kinds of dire predictions about the future, but I am confident that prayer and action can make a difference. I am old enough to remember the beginning of the environmental movement in the 1960’s and the big demonstrations on the first Earth Day in 1970. Although concern for the environment was originally considered a hippie movement, government did eventually take action to clean up our air and water.

A perfect example is the Chicago River that flows through our neighborhood. In the nineteenth century, the area around Niagara Falls was an industrial cesspool. Then it was cleaned up. Five years ago, the city slapped a seven-cent tax on non-recyclable plastic bags from the grocery store. City officials thought this was going to be

a financial bonanza. Instead, people got the message and switched to reusable bags.

The bottom line is that we are all capable of making some change in our life-style to show our concern for our common home. Making such a commitment during September would be a great way to celebrate the Season of Creation.

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