The Pope and the Patriarch: prayer comes first

A historic joint statement on ecology by Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew kicks off the ecumenical Season of Creation

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have issued a bold and beautiful statement today to acknowledge World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The brief declaration—the first of its kind—challenges Christians to maintain pray front and center in their eco-protection efforts.

“We know that we labor in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps. 126-127), if prayer is not at the center of our reflection and celebration,” the statement reads.

While many secular and Catholic eco-advocates will emphasize the statement’s political overtones, the document first and foremost calls Christians, and all those of good will, to the realization that human nature must first be baptized with God’s grace before it can save the world from its fallen state.

In short, the statement should be read with the following these three principles in mind:

Revelation is key to understanding where we are today. The statement's reading of the creation accounts in Genesis is not offered with mere sentimentality, as can so often happen. Rather, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew dive deep into God’s revealed truths. These include the weighty responsibilities of being cooperators with God’s will, as well as the consequences of sin.

Because of sin, “[w]e no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

“The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people.”

"An objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world." Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

In short, the story of Adam and Eve—those first consumers, who took from nature what they wanted even when they had been told the consequences of doing so—is a prophetic tale. Their sin is ours. It is rooted in the use of free will for the attainment of our demands and desires, not for the will and the glory of God.

This has always been the temptation for humanity. But today, with the addition of modern technologies and the powers they unleash, our choices have global implications. Add this much technology to our fallen human nature and we decimate whole forests, foul entire oceans, and change the climate of a world.

Salvation history in five paragraphs. The declaration does in five paragraphs what college courses on salvation history take a semester to cover. In fact, I told one reporter that if I will use this statement when teaching classes for RCIA programs. The arc of the statement begins with the problem, as discussed above, and presents the solution—our right relationship with God.

Again, what we are offered is not mere sentimentality. The pope and the patriarch encourage us “to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations.” But…"an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.”

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew remind us that we are living “in the meantime” of Salvation History. Christ has conquered, but his victory is not a repudiation of our free will. History continues and our choices matter. Christ will come again and make all things new, but until then, we must make certain that when we choose, we do so with God’s will in mind.

It’s up to our leaders—and up to us—to seek God first, and then to act. Recognizing that our fallen human nature will only truly soar with the acceptance of God’s grace, it is our responsibility to preach the gospel—to baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

But it’s also our job to advocate. We must bring our voice to the public square to assure that governments and the private sector act with the common good in mind.

“We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.”

Here in the States, the name of our president comes to mind when we read that leaders must “respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world.” This statement, and the direct references to climate change, may be points of contention for Christians who support the ecological and economic philosophies of President Donald Trump. The same will be true elsewhere with other supporters of other leaders—in large nations and small, in large corporations and small business, and among the consumers who support them. After all, even presidents of nations and corporations are not immune to the message of revelation. Nor the findings of science.

Which is another reason why this statement—this bold declaration—is so meaningful at this moment in world history.

“We are convinced,” Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew conclude, “that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

I encourage you to prayerfully read through this statement, especially today, September 1st—the Day of Prayer for Creation and, as it turns out, First Friday.

May the words of the pope and the patriarch amplify the comfort and challenges of the Gospels. And may we all, together and united, entrust our lives and our choices to God’s everlasting and almighty will.

Photo: Flicker/Bob Snyder

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.