Seven spiritual practices for saving the planet

With the help of your responses to my Pentecost post, I’m following up with seven practical ways to bring Catholic spirituality to our eco-activities. Posting this today seems especially right—since it is the great Feast of the Holy Trinity, the God who is love and pure relationship, who is the creator of all that is.

What follows are basic, tried-and-true forms of public worship and prayerful practices that do more than remind us that it is God—not us—that saves, elevates, and heals. God also invites us to cooperate with His saving activity. This invitation comes not because we deserve the honor. Rather, in His love God values our relationships with Him so much that He takes an enormous risk: the good of many things, including life on earth, either thrives or fails depending on how well we know, love, and serve Him.

The following is the start of a discussion. You can (and should!) add to and offer corrections. The point of all this is simple: Seek first the Kingdom of God—He who is the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier—and all the worldly good that we seek, and more, will be granted in one way or another. This includes safeguarding our fallen, polluted, and ecologically damaged world.

Receive the sacraments. It has to begin here, right? Our entry into the Church in the waters of baptism nestles our wounded human nature within the Body of Christ. And it is as members of this Body that, while we may labor and fall, we receive forgiveness and we rise. With the grace of the sacraments we grow more like Christ and less dependent on worldly pleasures. “Lord, make me a channel of your peace,” we ask in the Prayer of St. Francis. But to be this channel of grace and peace, we must first receive it in our encounters with God—especially the sacramental kind. In doing so, we not only build our individual virtue (which opposes vices, such as gluttony). We also build a healthy community—a family of individuals bound together by the love of God.

Bring everything to Mass. Do you have a rally to organize? Are you planning a coordinated delivery of testimony at a public hearing? Do you need to educate students or business leaders or elected officials? Are you worried because major corporations are training us to purchase electronics and other products that are made with environmentally and socially questionable practices in polluted parts of the world? Or are you yourself trying to live sustainably? No matter the concern, bring it with you and offer it up at Mass. Bring your fellow environmental advocates to Mass if they are Catholic—and invite them if they are not. Why not allow Christ’s Eucharistic presence to invigorate our worldly thoughts and actions? After all, central to the Mass is the offering of gifts to God—bread and wine, fruit of the earth and the vine and work of human hands. God accepts these gifts and, with infinite generosity and love, returns them with immeasurably more value. These created forms of life, perfected in small ways by human activity, become God Himself. They are given back to us as spiritual food and drink. And we need this divine nourishment. True conversion from vice to virtue can only occur with a true conversion of the heart. And it is God that converts hearts, not you or me or our human institutions.

(Speaking of Mass, have you spent time pondering the Fourth Eucharistic prayer? Its words are based on soaring salvation-of-the-cosmos imagery of St. Basil. That makes it especially helpful to consider how the Eucharist connects with our going into the world to glorify the Lord with our lives.)

Recite the Rosary. Let the Blessed Mother bring her son to the matter in hand. This prayer par excellence can be said by anyone, anywhere. And it is potent. Just ask those who routinely pray the Christ-centered prayers of the Rosary. Perhaps we might consider a nine-day novena prior to whatever worldly event is being planning—whatever vote is being taken in your local general assembly, whatever rally, whatever petition … you get the idea. (And here I have a suggestion: pray the Luminous Mysteries. Their focus on the transformative presence of God is just what the divine doctor orders when it comes to confronting and healing worldly ruin.)

Adoration. Spending some time on our knees before our Eucharistic Lord works wonders. In my Pentecost post I mentioned that during a morning of door-to-door evangelization that I helped with, a group of parishioners remained at the Church and prayed while we were on the streets. The resulting grace was certainly felt. Encounter after encounter had the signature of a God that seeks unity, love, and relationship. And so if you have an important event that requires some difficult worldly activity, pair those efforts with brothers and sisters in Christ who are praying for you before the Blessed Sacrament. After all, trusting in God’s presence is always wise.

Sanctify the worldly with a Eucharistic Procession. This is one of my favorite devotional activities—and one that many Catholics will get to engage in on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Bringing the Eucharistic presence of our Lord into the world is powerful indeed, as we witnessed in Cambridge, Massachusetts last month when a planned—and failed—Satanic black Mass prompted Catholics (and a great many others) to fill the streets with song, prayer, and the presence of Christ. Many graces came from that procession. And much grace can be brought to other matters—even environmental, social, and political ones. In fact, where there is human suffering and brokenness, bringing Christ’s presence is not just a nice thing to do. It is the responsibility of the faithful. (A nice reflection on the relationship between Eucharist and ecology can be found the recent apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. See section 92.)

Fasting and abstinence. These core ascetic Catholic practices achieve holiness and help to atone for sins. They also help us control our desires. The secular world has created “Meatless Mondays.” But Catholics have a long history of meatless Fridays—indeed, of Friday’s as a day of abstinence. We even have an entire season devoted to it. For both their spiritual and worldly benefits, it’s time that Catholics enthusiastically return to these exercises.

Okay, by now we all get the idea. But let me offer a final suggestion: A holy hour devoted to the right ordering of our role within the book of nature.

Such a holy hour could include many of the above devotions. It would also include hymns of praise to God the creator—which we find in many of the traditional hymns. As for prayers, EWTN offers a wonderful listing of prayers for agriculture and nature—including blessings for fields, vineyards, and animals. (Thank you to Catholic Rural Life for pointing us to this resource.)

Readings from scripture for such a holy hour could include the opening chapters of Genesis (I’d include chapter three as well as one and two, or just one and three), creation-themed psalms (like Psalm 104), and the Gospel’s birth and Easter narratives. (Come to think of it, the readings at such a holy hour would be much the same as those for the Easter Vigil. Fancy that. (Another apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, offers powerful insights into the relation between scripture and ecology. See section 108.)

Such a holy hour might also include a litany with a focus on ecology. This would emphasize St. John Paul II’s term of “human ecology” (which has been used by both his predecessors) because the natural world is becoming more and more dependent on the inner world of human souls. Such a litany may look something like this proposed one for praising the Holy Trinity and seeking God's grace to be better stewards of life and creation. (Keep in mind that this a proposal and it will improve with the suggestions of many—especially with necessary magisterial corrections and approval. More on that later.) For now, feel free to suggest ways to improve this litany. And if you do use it, or something like it, do so only for private purposes only.

What are your suggestions? How else might Catholic ecologists maintain trust in God and seek His saving grace? I look forward to continuing this conversation so that together we can elevate our worldly ones.

Photo: Flicker/Diocese of Venice.

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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.