In September, as the whole of humanity continues to grapple with the COVID pandemic, Pope Francis maintains his constant call to us all for a ‘globalisation of compassion’. The Pope continues to urge us through his worldwide prayer network, an apostleship of prayer that everyone can join, to take into our prayer these and all the challenges that face humanity and the church’s mission. In September, the particular form that takes is a prayer for our common home, our planet – we are invited to pray with the Holy Father, and all people of good will, that ‘the planet’s resources will not be plundered, but shared in a just and respectful manner’.
The pandemic surely has affected every single human person on the planet. Similarly, the looming environmental disaster, not so evident in the news headlines in recent months, is going to affect every single person alive on the planet, and those yet to be born. It will affect the poorest first and more quickly. Each person, in her or his own situation, must respond in some way and when we can’t, others must help us, and we must help anyone unable to help themselves.
Earth Overshoot Day
Towards the end of August, humanity passed a tragic milestone which might have gone un-noticed because of the pandemic. This day, 22 August 22, was Earth Overshoot Day; the moment in the calendar year on which humanity’s consumption of the earth’s resources exceeded, or overshot, nature’s ‘bio-capacity’, or capability, to replenish these resources. It is timely that the Holy Father has issued this call for prayerful solidarity now. We can pray about this, we can reflect on the patterns of over-consumption in our culture and we can reflect on our own individual use, or overuse, of the earth’s resources. We can examine our consciences about whether, or in all honesty how, we have contributed to this deadly excessive consumption. But we must also not fail to reflect on the good that we’ve done, as we’ve learned to limit our use and our sharing of depleted resources, reminding ourselves of our duty, in solidarity, to look to the common good.
Our prayer of intercession is never a magic spell that, if we get the exact formula of words right, will suddenly correct everything that has gone wrong. That would be a false and empty religion that had no room for faith. We do not doubt God’s power and action in the world but we can, at times, doubt what God calls us towards, in our everyday reality – that compassion, that solidarity that has the power to change the world. When we glimpse that, we begin to realise that God’s immense power is exercised that way, through us and even our tiniest acts of kindness and solidarity toward each other. We have in our Catholic tradition the concept of ‘subsidiarity’ – that decisions that affect us all must be taken as near to the ‘grass-roots’ as possible. After all, the Trinity exercises subsidiarity towards us. We’re often tempted to suggest that our little gestures are too small to be worthy of mention, but like the mustard seed that Jesus mentioned in one of the parables, such apparently tiny actions could do mighty things. In our prayer this month we could meditate on this reality and draw strength from what we find.
Prayer with the Liturgy
On consecutive days during September, the calendar of our church presents feast-days of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross followed by Our Lady of Sorrows. Coming at the mid-point of the month, these two holy days could enlighten our prayer. Mary stood mournfully by her Son’s Cross – she still does. What is that cross today? We are called, not to regret the cross or shy away from it, but to exalt it, hold it high in the world. God’s creation, God’s free gift is being crucified by us in our freedom.
It’s difficult, after so many months of lockdown in many lands and a great deal of personal tragedy and suffering, to keep in mind that there are other huge concerns that face humanity. It’s also difficult, at times, to remember that a great deal of good is being done by many people. As St Ignatius knew, the Bad Spirit is very likely to nudge us towards the negative thus undermining our Christian hope and leading us to think that we can’t do anything about our situation. The Good Spirit, that comes from God, reminds us of the opposite, the truth that sets us free. Ponder, in your quiet time this month, the good that is happening; those many acts of kindness as the pandemic has deepened, the scientists working tirelessly towards vaccines, the selflessness of so many health-care professionals, the researchers and writers bringing to our attention the real concerns about our environmental dangers. If we feel weak and defenceless in the face of so much danger, pray to become more aware of our deep human inter-connectedness, which is where true hope is to be found, the hope that impels us, with Mary, to hold high the Cross for all of humanity to see.
A morning offering prayer
This prayer, perhaps adapted to your own or your community’s situation, could begin each new day, offering the day ahead for God’s greater glory and the common good:
‘Merciful Father, I pause for a few moments, at the beginning of this day, to be in your abiding presence. May your Spirit guide me today and lead me in all that is true, good and beautiful. Grant me the grace to live the gospel and infuse in me a love for all people and for the whole of creation, your free gift to us all. I offer you my heart this day, united to the intention of Pope Francis for this month. Amen.