With fall coming, let us listen to God’s creation and pray, Catholic bishops say

By Kevin J. Jones

Denver Newsroom, Sep 6, 2022 / 08:00 am

The “beauty of the fall season” in many parts of the country is a great time to make yourself more open to God and to join Pope Francis in praying for God’s creation, the U.S. bishops have said.

“Our gratitude for plentiful harvests and the beauty of colorful leaves, early sunsets, and cooler air invites us to make some interior space to listen more carefully to creation, to each other and to God,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said Sept. 1.

The bishops’ message for the World Day of Prayer for Creation came from Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Justice and Human Development, and Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Pope Francis established the day of prayer in 2015. It is commemorated Sept. 1. It begins a monthlong “Season of Creation” that ends on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

The day of prayer is in keeping with the theme of the pope’s 2015 encyclical “Laudato si’,” (on care for our common home). The theme of this year’s day of prayer is “Listen to the Voice of Creation.” 

“If we learn how to listen, we can hear in the voice of creation a kind of dissonance,” Pope Francis said in his own message for the observance. “On the one hand, we can hear a sweet song in praise of our beloved Creator; on the other, an anguished plea, lamenting our mistreatment of this our common home.”

The U.S. bishops reflected on Pope Francis’ words. Just as the Old Testament prophets warned about those who “have ears, but hear not,” Catholics today must “learn the art of listening to protect the environment.”

“With careful attentiveness, the Holy Father rightly identifies a dissonance in the world, also resoundingly true in the United States,” they said. “The beauty of the natural world and the harmony that comes from the integrity of creation speaks to us. Yet we also hear the ‘cry of the earth and cry of the poor,’ the ‘little ones’ being wounded by a throwaway culture fueled by greed, over-consumption, technocratic power, and indifference. We continue to experience the destructive force of natural disasters, floods, fires, and heat waves and the consequent suffering of people, animals, and ecosystems.”

With attentive listening, the bishops said, “we can also catch the sound of hope emerging from our collective actions to protect creation, perhaps surprisingly, from our national politics and within our pilgrim Church.”

Some “hopeful responses” came from the synodal processes across U.S. Catholic dioceses. Some participants, especially young people, gave voice to “a need for the Church to care for creation.”

“Numerous U.S. Catholic institutions, religious orders, dioceses, parishes, communities, families, and individuals are responding to the invitation of ‘Laudato Si’,’” the bishops said.

Their statement praised the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s support for community organizations that work on environmental issues. The Catholic Rural Life Conference works with farmers and agriculture leaders, Catholic Charities aids those affected by natural disasters, and Catholic Relief Services advances climate change adaptation work among the poor of the world.

The USCCB recently updated its socially responsible investment guidelines, with the most attention given to environmental concerns. It now has five categories for responsible investment: climate change, biodiversity, water and natural resources, technology, and environmental impact.

The U.S. bishops noted the upcoming feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the second anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli tutti,” which addressed fraternity and social friendship. According to the bishops, the pope’s call for “a better kind of politics” is an appeal to seek a better “eco-politics” that “protects, rather than exploits, the environment and green ideologies for partisan gain.”

Despite political divisions, lawmakers of many political beliefs share concerns about the global climate and the national welfare.

“They are doing the hard work of considering bi-partisan policies that can preserve the environment, promote energy security, and grow the economy,” said the bishops. “We pray that now, and in the future, both parties will continue to put forward their best environmental policies and work together to protect our ‘common home which God has entrusted to us.’”

The U.S. bishops also cited Pope Benedict XVI’s environmental exhortations.

“We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly,” Benedict XVI said in September 2011 remarks to the German parliament. He praised the environmental movement because it realized that “matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives.”

The bishops reflected on a phrase from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “faith comes from hearing.”

“Hearing emphasizes the personal, mysterious presence of God and the invitation to discipleship. Even in times of darkness when sight fails or the body cannot feel, God’s voice comes to us — directly, or through creation and other people — to remind us of his love, presence, and mercy,” they said. “While we can direct our gaze and reach with our bodies, listening is the most passive of the senses of faith, reminding us of the Lord’s initiative and activity.”

“Faith is our response to God’s action rather than the product of our Promethean making,” they said.

Pope Francis’ own message for the day of prayer asked for prayers that world leaders at the upcoming COP27 conference on climate change and the COP15 summit on biodiversity can unite the human family in addressing “the double crisis of climate change and the reduction of biodiversity.”

“Mindful of the exhortation of St. Paul to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep, let us weep with the anguished plea of creation,” the pope said. “Let us hear that plea and respond to it with deeds, so that we and future generations can continue to rejoice in creation’s sweet song of life and hope.”

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