An owl rests on a tree branch in the forest of Kermit, W. Va. In Pope Francis' encyclical, "Laudato Si'," he urged that "the entire material universe speaks of God's love. ... Soil, water, mountains: Everything is, as it were, a caress of God." (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Caring for Our Common Home

Starting the conversation with parishioners about ecological challenges

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Bonnar (new)Embedded in the Book of Ezekiel is an interesting passage about how the prophet is to be a watchman: “The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, speak to your people and tell them: When I bring the sword against a land, if the people of that land select one of their number as a sentinel for them, and the sentinel sees the sword coming against the land, he should blow the trumpet to warn the people. If they hear the trumpet but do not take the warning and a sword attacks and kills them, their blood will be on their own heads” (33:1-4).

As shepherds of the Church, we are called throught our leading, teaching and sanctifying to be watchmen. To be a watchman, or sentinel, is “to look out or about” and/or “to keep watch,” striving to be ready to sound the trumpet when there is danger of any kind to the flock. This intentional gaze, to peer out into the horizon, goes far beyond looking into the assembly at Mass for any threats. Every day as priests we need to be intentional about not just physical threats that could harm those whom we serve, but spiritual and moral ones as well.

In 2015, Pope Francis sounded the trumpet, signaling danger ahead not just for the flock of the Catholic Church, but the entire world, with the publication of the encyclical letter “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” Pope Francis begins his reflection by referencing St. Francis of Assisi who views Mother Earth as a sister that is crying out because of our common irresponsibility and lack of care. Pope Francis states that the earth “is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22)” (No. 2). In response to this incessantly intensifying groan, he offers an urgent appeal calling for a conversation that includes everyone because the ecological challenges affect all of us.

Pope Francis wants to alert the entire world to this crisis. At the same time, he calls for an “ecological conversion.” He writes: “‘The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.’ For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. … Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (No. 217).

Sadly, the blast of this trumpet, calling for vigilance and change regarding our common home, has fallen on deaf ears and indifferent hearts. On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi in 2023, Pope Francis as God’s watchman blasted the trumpet again with the apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum, seeking to “clarify and complete” his previous reflection.

Once again, change and conversion are at the heart of this effort. Pope Francis writes, “Yet what is important is something less quantitative: the need to realize that there are no lasting changes without cultural changes, without a maturing of lifestyles and convictions within societies, and there are no cultural changes without personal changes” (Laudate Deum, No. 70).

What can we do in our role as watchmen to echo the sound of this trumpet and invite our people to embrace a greater responsibility and care for our common home? Perhaps the first thing we can do is prayerfully read both documents. It might be helpful to invite members of the parish staff to read them, as well, and consider what we can do as individuals, one by one, to give greater care for our home. We can and must change our ways.

The second thing we can do is for a Laudato Deum committee in the parish. Just as we have parish councils, safety committees, hospitality committees and liturgical committees, we could have a committee intentionally focused on the environment with the task to engender greater awareness and responsibility in this urgent matter.

Finally, as priests, we could consider being more intentional about our meetings, praying for our common home, making use of the prayers found in Laudato Si’ — A Prayer for Our Earth and A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation — all the while seeking to praise our creator God.

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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