Pope's ecological spirituality provides grist for reflection

Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

June 27, 2016

This month we celebrate the first anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'. Over the past year, I have had the privilege of being part of many conversations about this ground-breaking encyclical with different Catholic, ecumenical and interfaith groups.

In most discussions, attention is focused on the headline issues such as paying for costs associated with climate change, shifting away from fossil fuels to renewables, impact on poor communities and countries, and criticizing the functioning of global capitalism.

The encyclical is a lengthy document, 160 pages, so it is difficult to cover all the major themes. Too often, time runs out so that the last chapter (Chapter 6) on Christian ecological spirituality gets neglected. This really is unfortunate because this chapter is a theological gem worthy of full attention.

Archbishop Richard Smith has lifted out a key passage in Chapter 6, where Pope Francis invites us to pray at mealtimes (227) as part of his Every Life Matters initiative.

This passage deserves a careful reading. Pope Francis starts this section by speaking of "an adequate understanding of spirituality" which refers to an inner peace with a balanced lifestyle.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

He calls for an integral ecological spirituality which includes "taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us" (225).

ATTITUDE OF HEART

He speaks of "an attitude of the heart" where we approach life with attentiveness where we are fully present to all we may meet. He sees Jesus as the exemplar who "was completely present to everyone and everything" (226).

Pope Francis sees giving thanks to God through prayers before and after meals as an expression of this attitude of attentiveness and full presence to everyone and everything (227).

He sees these mealtime prayers as having four dimensions. First, this prayer "reminds us of our dependence on God for life." Our lives, all life, comes from God. Second, "it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation." We are to give thanks and care for all creation which is a loving gift from a generous God.

Third, it "acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods." This is a call to respect and support the dignity of all those, locally and internationally, who work to provide our food and necessities of life, including farmers, agricultural workers and those in industry, transportation and markets.

Fourth, our prayer "reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need." As we prepare to eat our own meal, we are called to live and act in solidarity with those who are hungry, homeless and in great need.

The message of this one passage (227) is an excellent summary of the message of Laudato Si'. Pope Francis, through his own life witness, continually calls us to "walk the talk," and to take these words contained in prayer and put them into action in our lives.

EVERYTHING CONNECTED

Each day as we pray at meals, we are to be attentive to where life, creation, human work and the situation of those in great need is being compromised, and what concrete actions we can take. As Pope Francis says repeatedly in this encyclical, "everything is connected."

For those of us who live in Western Canada, summer is a special time when we can get outdoors and encounter personally the many dimensions of the beauty and diversity of God's creation. It can also be an opportune time for spiritual reflection, to be attentive and fully present to everyone and everything.

SUMMER REFLECTION

Dean Sarnecki, with the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association, has proposed that we take Chapter 6 as the basis for a summer spiritual reflection. Chapter 6 of Laudato Si', titled Ecological Education and Spirituality, is divided into 44 paragraphs (14 pages).

We can take some time each day, alone or as a family, in July and August to read and reflect on one of the paragraphs from Chapter 6, and then conclude with one of the two prayers provided by Pope Francis at the end of the encyclical. The text is widely available in print or online www.vatican.va. Give it a try.

(Bob McKeon: rmckeon55@gmail.com)