When Pope Francis established the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation almost five years ago, he declared that this day would provide “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation.”
The word “vocation” in this context might sound strange to some, especially given the observations of the Vatican Document anticipating the Synod on Young People, which found that many people only associate the term with the priesthood and religious life. The truth is, however, not only that awareness of a vocational call is accessible to all people, but that there is also “a fullness to each vocation.” In other words, it is not a one-and-done decision to enter the priesthood or married life, for instance, but a multilayered reality that is continually revealed by God throughout one’s life.
In this sense, Pope Francis sees this day as an opportunity for everyone to come to a deeper understanding of our call from God to care for creation. “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork,” Pope Francis states in Laudato Si’, “is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (no. 217).
From my perspective, this is not the way that most people think about creation care. It is often reduced to a few discrete actions: recycling, turning off lights, using a reusable water bottle, etc. It is not uncommon to see lists of “5 Easy Ways to Go Green,” as if living in harmony with the natural world is something we can do in our spare time after dinner and then be forgotten.
Pope Francis is calling for something much more radical. The nature of the ecological crisis necessitates a complete transformation in perspective and a “profound interior conversion” (LS no. 217). Seeing caring for creation as a vocation, causes one to view every action, thought, and prayer through the lens of one’s relationship with creation and the Creator.
Given that “everything is connected,” increased awareness of this reality can quickly become overwhelming (LS no. 117). One begins to see how each individual is entangled in a vast web of consumption beyond one’s control. This makes it extremely difficult to reduce one’s impact on the environment and others, or even to know one’s true impact. The simple decision to buy a cup of coffee, for instance, leads to a myriad of questions about how the beans were grown, processed, and transported, how the workers were treated, how the paper cup was produced, and so on.
Realizing the systemic nature of social and environmental problems can be paralyzing and disheartening. Yet seeing our response to these issues as a dimension of our vocation can make things simpler, since our most fundamental vocation is the call to holiness: “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness” (Gaudete et Exsultate no. 19).
As Pope Francis advises us: “Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received” (GEE no. 23). The systemic problems we face cannot be solved by individual spiritual growth alone, but the above guidance serves as a useful roadmap for the profound spiritual conversion we must undergo.
On this World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and throughout the Season of Creation, then, let us pray that we become more aware of the place we inhabit within the web of life and hear how God calls us to live in greater harmony with all creation.
Matt Jones previously served as the Environmental Policy Assistant for the Environmental Justice Program of the USCCB. Learn more about the USCCB’s work on the environment.
September 1 is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and the beginning of the “Season of Creation,” which lasts until October 4th, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. For ways to celebrate the Season of Creation, check out this handout created by the USCCB or this reflection resource created by the Catholic Climate Covenant. You can also download the Catholic Climate Covenant’s Feast of Saint Francis program for your parish, which this year focuses on the intersection of climate change, refugees, and migration.