Christians must urgently take up the challenge of saving our planet, writes Brian Grogan SJ
Brian Grogan SJ
Time is running out for life on our planet. Why? Because every day we wipe out more than 150 species. That comes to some 60,000 per year. In the first 16 years of this century alone, the list of a million disappeared species includes the golden toad, the black-faced honeycreeper, the Baiji dolphin, the West African black rhino. Atlas cedars are shrivelling in North Africa, Australian eucalyptus forests are burning, and the Amazon basin has had two severe droughts.
Unless we have a change of heart, many other species will not survive. Each of them is irreplaceable; they came to be through tortuous evolutionary journeys over millions of years. Each has a unique role in the community of life on earth. Some may be small, but small is beautiful, and their disappearance is irrevocable. A spasm of extinction is contorting the Earth. We, the human species, are the cause, and if we continue to ravage the environment, we ourselves will be brought to extinction too.
Fall in love
This is why Pope Francis is calling on each of us to take responsibility now for the future of our common home. He is appealing to that quality of care which we show when something we love is threatened: we spontaneously swing into action and try to defend a child, a friend, a flower, a pet or our own home.
We are now called to fall in love with what St Francis calls ‘Sister Earth’ and to defend it, even at cost to ourselves. John Muir writes: “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands and flying through space with other stars…the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty’.”
In Ask the Beasts (2014), best-selling author Elizabeth Johnson invites us to wake up to the grandeur of the living world, to fall in love with life, and to change our behaviour to protect it.
Our holy places
Many global initiatives are emerging on behalf of the environment, and caring people across Ireland have long been locally involved, for example through the Tidy Towns Competition. A new project has recently been created by a tiny group who have no resources except a passion for the Earth. This project is called Loving Sister Earth. Its goal is to forge a national network of Prayer and Care for the environment by focussing on Ireland’s holy places. The alert reader will spot the parallels between Tidy Towns and holy places!
The focus is on Ireland’s holy places because there we can engage directly with nature and find a latent energy into which we can tap. Our little island abounds in holy places, and they form a treasure trove on which we can draw.
We have some 3,000 holy wells and 2,000 monastic sites; add in our holy mountains and islands, high crosses, round towers, mass rocks, beehive cells, pilgrim paths, wayside shrines and more. These are close to hand and easy to find with the help of the Internet.
An abundance of literature on them is also available. Newman remarked some 150 years ago that such places are the storehouses of the past and the birthplace of the future.
Their time is now. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ (2015) encourages us to believe that this project is on the right lines, and the Irish Episcopal Conference has expressed its support.
Elizabeth Johnson speaks of “falling in love with life”. In order to care for Sister Earth we need to be in touch with it, to sense and feel it.
When we visit any holy place we are in contact with nature in a simple and direct way. We come to love its stones, water, wind, grass, trees, flowers, birds, bugs; we notice the light, clouds, rain, sky, sunshine, shadows; we can hear its sounds. We can let these manifestations of nature speak their story and sing their song to us. We can hear the divine invitation given to Moses: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
When we lovingly contemplate these simple things we gain the energy we need to care for them. For more than 1,500 years our sacred shrines have provided our ancestors with that spiritual energy.
Now it is our turn to be nourished. We can pray in gratitude for their beauty, and come away resolved to collaborate in taking some action which will improve our common home. Ni neart go cur le cheile! By becoming ‘prayer friends’ of our holy places, we will be drawn to protect our local environment. Through concerted action we will bequeath a refreshed and cared-for home to the generations coming after us. And gradually we will come to recognise that Sister Earth is itself a global holy place.
Only then will our common home be in safe care. The ultimate goal of loving Sister Earth is to forge a global chain of prayer and care for universal harmony.
You can identify the holy places around you which still attract devotion, and you can perhaps restore others that are neglected. You can invite those who visit them to use prayers based on Laudato Si’ and to form local action groups for the care of the Earth. The fruits of these will be shared on our website, www.lovingsisterearth.com. It offers support, resources and links which will encourage others here and abroad to engage in their own creative projects, while we can learn from theirs.
In this way you can help to build up around Ireland’s holy places a network of concerned persons to form a national ‘prayer and care’ grid! Action may focus on illegal dumping, fish kills, the disappearance of the humble corncrake or the destruction of habitats of small birds, animals and insects. Loving Sister Earth is an ecumenical project and will work in solidarity with others who care. It is an Irish response to the challenges set by Laudato Si’.
In August 2015 Pope Francis designated September 1 as World Day of Prayer for Creation. Others have extended this date from September 1 to October 4, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi. What is important is prayer and care for the Earth, rather than dates! Our main celebration this year is on October 15 and 16 when there will be global live-streaming of Creative prayer rituals from some of Ireland’s holy places. You can participate through https://www.clicktopray.org/en/news, or on YouTube in www.lovingsisterearth.com.
Many holy places of Ireland have their annual date for celebration. See in our website the page Irish Dioceses and their Patron Saints, where 43 dates are listed! You can join others in prayer on such dates. You could pray in your own garden, because, as the mystics know, wherever you pray, you pray for the universe! And you can symbolise by some simple action your solidarity with others in caring for Sister Earth.
On the same weekend of October 15 and 16 a sacred concert, ‘The Story of Love’, will be live-streamed globally from Knock Basilica on https://www.clicktopray.org/en/news.
The concert has a similar theme to loving Sister Earth. It opens with a multimedia presentation of the origin of Creation, and asks, ‘Was this also the birth of Love?’ In the finale the audience sings with choirs from across the world, ‘We Believe It’s All About Love!’ The goal of ‘The Story of Love’ is to bring about in a global audience a conversion of heart, a deepening of love towards humankind, creation and God. To participate in this unique event, visit www.storyofloveshow.com
This tiny planet, wandering among the stars, is our common home, our only home in the cosmos. God cares for its every detail, and we must ‘go and do likewise’ (Luke 10:37), because now the wounded traveller of Jesus’ parable is Sister Earth itself! And we are to play the part of the good Samaritan, moved with pity, who took care of what was dying, paid the nursing care and restored the patient’s health.