In this watershed moment for humanity—a global pandemic—we need more than a vaccine. We’ve all realized by now that things won’t return to normal, at least not any time soon, and maybe they shouldn’t.
I’ve been much more careful of what I consume, more caring of others, more concerned for the rest of the world whom I see in a new way as my family. We live together on this common earth we call home.
In a moment of fear I place my hopes on a vaccine that will keep me safe. In my better moments I remember that the problem is much more than a drug to keep away a virus. The situation is complex and the crux of the problem lies at the intersection of the failure of each of us. In little ways and on a larger scale, we harm others, the earth that supports us, and ourselves when we choose the “impulses that come from the flesh” over those that come from the Spirit. When we choose egoism over generosity. Domination over disinterested service. Discord, dissension and prejudice over living in a truly human and Christian way, in love.
Last week, Catholics around the world celebrated Laudato Si’ Week, marking the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical on the environment. The week focused on interconnectedness during a time when we are experiencing it more than ever on a worldwide scale in light of COVID-19.
We’ve seen how a virus that began with one person has spread globally, and how that has affected our collective health, economy, and environment. And yet in the midst of this, miracles have happened. Because of how we have all slowed down, we see pictures of clear water, clear skies, the return of wildlife where before there was smog, litter, and cloudy water ways.
We’ve also started to see how reliant we are on our healthcare workers, our grocery-store workers, and our community leaders. We see how much responsibility we bear for the most vulnerable among us, and how they are often the ones who feel the effects of our actions first.
This connectedness has always existed, and will hopefully be more a part of our thought and conscience after the virus has passed. Globalization means that the products I consume impact the conditions in which people live and work on the other side of the world. The challenge will be taking the lessons we learn in this time and using them to make those connections more prayerful, more deliberate, and more just. We have to remember how our actions impact each other, even after life gets busier and it’s easy to once more forget our interconnectedness once our economies “open up” again.
The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home (Pope Francis, Laudato si’, 13).
The Church is just now beginning a special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year. Pope Francis sees this anniversary year—and the decade that will follow it—as a time of grace, a true Kairos experience and “jubilee” time for the Earth, for humanity, and for all God’s creatures. Perhaps during these days, when so many have stepped back from the normal rhythm of life, we’ve had more time to pause and examine the big picture. Hopefully, we can launch ourselves into this anniversary year reflecting on some lessons that are common to both this coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis.
As we saw during the Laudato Si’ week, there are direct links between the current pandemic and our lack of environmental response. The present crisis is an opportunity to start over again, and to make sure the world that arises after this crisis is sustainable and just.
The encyclical can indeed provide the moral and spiritual compass for the journey ahead, so we can create a more caring, fraternal, peaceful, and sustainable world. We have a unique opportunity to transform the present groaning and travail of creation into the birth pangs of a new way of living together, bonded together in love, compassion and solidarity, and a more harmonious relationship with the natural world, our common home. The pandemic has made clear how deeply we are all interconnected and interdependent. As we begin to envision a post-COVID world, we need above all an integral approach as “everything is closely interrelated and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis” (LS, 137).
Let’s start with this prayer from the USCCB, based on Laudato Si’:
Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship–
with one another,
and with creation.
Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human family
by recognizing that we are all connected—
to our brothers and sisters around the world,
to those in poverty impacted by environmental devastation,
and to future generations.
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all—
individuals and families,
communities of faith,
and civil and political leaders.
Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home.
by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP
Image: Jakob Owens for Unsplash