The world’s climate emergency took on immediate relevance during August with the burning Amazon rainforest. As if we don’t have enough to keep us awake at night, we confronted apocalyptic flames, smoke visible from space and environmental disaster on a global scale.
Enter Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, whose country contains a great deal of the burning forest. Bolsonaro is one of many right-wing strongmen popping up globally, concerned with power and greed above concern for what Pope Francis calls “our common home,” this earth.
Does central casting need a new James Bond villain? I nominate Bolsonaro. The little he has done to stifle the fires, largely set by cattle ranchers and farmers clearing the forest, has been done only after intense international pressure, including economic boycott threats by large corporations.
Meanwhile, we feel helpless.
In her book, “Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality,” Margaret Silf tells the story of the traveler who becomes lost.
Finally, he asks a man for help. After a “lengthy and convoluted” attempt at steering the traveler in the right direction, the man throws up his hands and cries, “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.”
Haven’t we all felt that way, not just lost in the wrong neighborhood but emotionally and spiritually lost and wishing we could go back to square one? That’s how many of us might feel right now about the climate, about U.S. politics and maybe about our own direction home.
Silf’s book isn’t about climate change, but it explores where God is in our life. And where we stand, she assures us, is where God is meeting us.
“With God, we always start exactly where we are,” writes Silf.
Benedictine spirituality says something similar about our journey with God: “Always, we begin again.”
As I write this, we are beginning the “Season of Creation.” This ecumenical effort runs from Sept. 1, which is the day in 2015 when Pope Francis introduced the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and lasts until Oct. 4, the feast of our environmental patron, St. Francis of Assisi.
Tired of hearing that phrase, “thoughts and prayers”? Yeah, so am I, if it’s used as a singular solution — sometimes even a distraction — to a deadly problem, like gun control or climate change.
But as Catholics, we know we never tire of prayer itself. Prayer doesn’t change God’s will, but it changes our hearts and leads us to the action God wants.
So, let’s look at this brief period — not even five full weeks — of the Season of Creation and pray. Pray that, rather than fear the James Bond villain who holds the world’s fate in his hands, we sleep well at night by trusting in the God who holds us. We pray to change our own lives, to begin again to love creation.
If you google Season of Creation, you can find long lists of actions you can take for our environment.
You may want to join with the Sisters of Mercy, who are advocating for “Meatless Mondays” during this season, because “meat production consumes large amounts of grain and water and leads to massive deforestation in areas such as the Amazon.”
You may want to see where you can eliminate plastic and find alternatives in your home.
You could write your congressional representatives and ask them to prioritize climate change.
You could talk to your pastor about more climate-concerned prayers of the faithful and bulletin acknowledgements during this Season of Creation.
But pray, then take action and trust in the God who meets us exactly where we are.
Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.”