Mater Misericordiae, Vol. IV: The Virgin Mary and Creation


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Love God and Neighborhood

World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

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By Br. Stephen, MIC

In 2015, Pope Francis declared Sept. 1 an annual "World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation." His letter establishing this day described it as a time for the faithful "to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation." The Holy Father proposed three concrete ways to celebrate this day: thank God for the gift of creation; ask His help in governing it; and atone for "sins committed against the world" He gave us. These themes of gift, governance, and atonement for the abuse of both are also expressed by his two immediate predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis has tirelessly emphasized care for the gift of the environment, most notably in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si' (On Care for Our Common Home). John Paul and Benedict also revered this gift and criticized abuses of it no less clearly. Both these popes grew up in countries where Catholic stewardship was threatened and subverted by an ideology of work. In both capitalist and socialist countries, men often chose consumption and control over the proper care of the earth and of their fellow man. John Paul's first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man, 1979), exposes this vice: "Man often seems to see no other meaning in his natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption." This drove factory production in Poland under Communism: It drives much industrial production today under the name of "consumerism."

It is easy to name abuses. To correct them, however, we must return to the deeper good. John Paul II again is our guide. In Centesimus Annus (On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, 1991), he wrote that man has a "capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work." This describes the great gift and responsibility of human freedom: Man is a co-creator with God. Man's very capacity, however, can be twisted into an "arbitrary use of the earth ... as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose." Man thus replaces God rather than "co-operat[ing]... in the work of creation." Arrogantly assuming absolute authority, man "provok[es] a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him." Thus, we must safeguard our sublime role as co-operators with God, remaining vigilant against arrogance and selfishness. John Paul II, indeed, called for an "authentic human ecology" to provide a suitable environment for man as well as creatures. We see here the three themes of Pope Francis: reverence for the gift of creation, cooperation in God's government, and caution against the abuse of both.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about proper care for the environment in similar terms. In his message for the World Day of Peace in 2010, he chose the theme: "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation." In this message, he repeated that "[t]he environment [is] God's gift to all people." Our freedom to fill the earth and subdue it (see Gen 1:28) is "not a simple conferral of authority, but rather a summons to responsibility." Thus, he calls for ways of producing and distributing goods that "respect ... creation and satisfy ... the primary needs of all." This includes the use of technology, which Benedict calls in Caritas in Veritate (On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, 2009) "a response to God's command to till and keep the land."

Pope Benedict is also known for emphasizing the connections between creation and the liturgy. In his encyclical on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis (On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission, 2007), Benedict wrote that the liturgy praises God "in the name of all creation," having no less a goal than "the sanctification of the world." He commented on the words in the Mass "fruit of the earth ... fruit of the vine," noting that we offer here both the gifts of God and our labor over them. This reinforces the truth that creation is not merely "raw material," but "part of God's good plan."

The clearest model for the Church's care of the environment is, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her home at Nazareth, Mary provided an "environment" for the Child Jesus to grow and flourish. She supplied for, not merely His physical needs, but every need of His Sacred human Heart. Just so should we also strive to care for our common home by both physical and spiritual means. We can care for the earth, not only through effort and technological progress, but also by our prayers, so that Jesus can live among us today in His Mystical Body, the Church. That's why this "World Day of Prayer" is so important: It raises our minds and hearts to God, our Creator and our King.

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