Cleansing Fire

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Laudato Si — Disturbing Prayers — Part XIV

August 27th, 2015, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Concerns about Environmental Prayer

It is not within my ability or right or privilege to comment on strengths or weaknesses in any particular prayers, and certainly not regarding prayers promulgated by the Pope.  However, with the solicitation of dialogue in Laudato Si, and the inclusion of two prayers in particular at the end of the Encyclical itself, it nevertheless seems important to at least personally respond to what is suggested as our own prayer for the environment.  And “disturbing” is an appropriate word.

That we are 2000 years into the many prayers of the Catholic Church for so many varying needs, it is a bit strange that we don’t already have prayers for virtually everything of importance, and that we actually need “new prayers” for ecology and the environment.  Therefore, it is meaningful to compare the newly proposed prayers to those to which we are accustomed, which suggest prayer “by” the environment rather than “for” the environment,  and by such comparison to determine if what is now offered is consistent with our prayer history.

I can think of no prayer as a better exemplar regarding the environment than what is prayed worldwide in the Liturgy of the Hours on the First Sundays in the Psalter for Morning Prayer, a key set of psalms and canticles used on many Feast Days as well.  One might consider it a kind of “premiere” canticle due to such prominence.

 

Comparison of Canticle of Daniel 3:57-88, 56 to the First Prayer in Laudato Si

Canticle of Daniel

Bless the Lord, all His works, praise and exalt Him for ever.

Bless the Lord, you heavens; all His angels, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, you waters above the heavens; all His powers, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, sun and moon; all stars of the sky, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, rain and dew; all you winds, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, fire and heat; cold and warmth, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, dew and frost; ice and cold, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, ice and snow; day and night, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, light and darkness; lightning and storm-clouds, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, all the earth, praise and exalt Him for ever.

Bless the Lord, mountains and hills; all growing things, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, seas and rivers; springs and fountains, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, whales and fish; birds of the air, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, wild beasts and tame; sons of men, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, O Israel, praise and exalt Him for ever.

Bless the Lord, His priests, all His servants, bless the Lord.

Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the just; all who are holy and humble, bless the Lord.

Ananias, Azarias, Mishael, bless the Lord, praise and exalt Him for ever.

Let us bless Father, Son and Holy Spirit, praise and exalt Them for ever.

Bless the Lord in the firmament of heaven, praise and glorify Him for ever.

 

A prayer for our earth by Pope Francis (intended for all who believe in a Creator God)

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Comparison

What strikes me is how the Canticle of Daniel is totally oriented to praising the Lord, but “A prayer for our earth” is just that – a prayer “for” the earth, not “by” the earth in praise of God, with a ‘to-do’ list for what God should do about those who are not living in the spirit of the prayer that is being offered.  Even in the Canticle of Daniel, the three young men in the flames are not praying for themselves but calling on the whole world to praise God. I think this dichotomy is the basis of my discomfort with the new prayer, which I find hard to pray.

Lest anyone think that the Canticle of Daniel is pantheistic, it is not.  To personalize the spirit of any part of creation, as being for the Glory of God, is not the same as claiming that God is the element of His Creation.  St. Francis used this approach when he personalized “Mother Earth.”  (This discussion is not meant to needlessly omit that Pope Francis does quote other references to prayer regarding the environment, including three verses (3-5) from Psalm 148 in the Morning Prayer for the Third Sunday in the Psalter; again, the tone of his reference (#72) is very different from the two new prayers he proposes.)

A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation

The second prayer given by Pope Francis, offered for use by all Christians, is “A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation.”  Rather than reproducing the entire second prayer, which is readily available on line, there are just a few verses within the prayer which may also disturb, or raise questions.  For example:

“Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.”

That verse relates to Romans 8:22, in which Paul says:  “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now;” but the scriptural message seems to be more one of waiting for adoption as full sons of God, rather than intended to attribute the groanings of all creation to pollution or environmental problems; i.e. “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste … among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor….”.  There is at least some confusion in using Romans in this way in an environmental Encyclical.

How do the words “help us to protect all life” not raise serious questions about past and current commitments to defend life in the womb?  To resist euthanasia? To refuse to accommodate contraceptives? To oppose gender selection and gender mutilation?  In a prayer specifically related to the environment, one wonders how much of our deeper priorities are consequentially being excluded.

Another kind of disturbance experienced while reading this particular prayer of Pope Francis is a certain gentleness and uplifting language in his writing juxtaposed against language that is more harsh, alienating or even divisive.  For example, some would find it very difficult to say (or to hear said) at, e.g., a daily Mass where parishioners offer intercessions, the following words: “Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live.”  Isn’t this an obligation of all humanity?  Why are those who possess power and money so selectively targeted for what all peoples should be doing?  When dioceses close the churches in the inner cities, e.g., meant to offer the greatest riches in the world (the Gospel) to all people, how are the poor not being disproportionately excluded, especially if they lack transportation to reach the suburban alternatives?  Moreover, I would also consider the opposite words distasteful and inappropriate for intercessions at Mass; i.e. “We give Thee thanks for all those who possess power and money and have avoided the sin of indifference, loved the common good, advanced the weak, and cared for this world in which we live.”  As is stated in Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

Lack of development of the link between the poor and the environment

While the link between the poor and the environment is stated repeatedly in Laudato Si, the explanation or development of the linkage is somewhat lacking.  An example would be the words in the second prayer which state: “The poor and the earth are crying out.”  Although it repeats the theme which underlies the Encyclical, in some cases it is either a non sequitur, or the connection is just difficult to decipher.  Two examples:

“The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.” (#27)  “The poor you always have with you…”?  (John 12:8) was stated by Christ.  Such words are also contained in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7.  Can we reasonably expect to “solve” the problem of poverty through interventions based on governmental power?  How can there be merit to the individual soul in paying obligatory, forced taxes so that half a nation can be on food stamps?  Individual acts of charity arise in the heart, and God uses those for the shaping of souls.  Governments die at the end of time; only people are judged, one by one, at the particular judgment.  Interfering with the ability of individual souls to serve God through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy by stripping their resources to do so is a point worth discussing further.

“And so the day of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds it [sic] light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.” (#237)  This is another sentence which is difficult to understand, as the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Love, motivates us (and obligates us) to share a self-sacrificing love with all peoples, rich or poor, and also to serve with many actions, such as the Spiritual Works of Mercy, not limiting our motivations to only nature and the poor, both undefined terms in the Encyclical.   If we look to the Gospels for Christ’s own words on nature and the poor, we do not actually find much, yet a ‘preferential option for the poor’ has been used as if it were a religion in itself.

What we might particularly notice in the Gospels is that while Christ condemned stinginess as on the part of the rich man who ignored the starving Lazarus at his gate, He also seems through the ‘purse,’ to have provided something for the poor, as implied at the Last Supper in the words of  John 13:29: “Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast”; or, that he should give something to the poor.”  

We notice that Christ personally and often responded to those in need, whether at the Wedding Feast of Cana, raising the dead, feeding with loaves and fish, or curing lepers and demoniacs, among other works.  But He Who had all power in His Hands, apparently didn’t make poor people rich in what didn’t matter to their souls, or which absence gave those who lacked resources a unique ability to glorify God in ways that  those with more power or money struggle to do (giving out of abundance rather than need.)  No,  the message Jesus sent to John the Baptist in prison was not “the poor are made rich” but rather “… the poor have the good news (Gospel) preached to them.” This charity, sharing the Word of God, exceeds all other charities, which is why evangelizing and witnessing to our Faith is so essential.

It is a great disappointment to me that an Encyclical of more than 40,000 words, linking the poor and the environment, gives so little attention to preaching the ‘good news.’  We must all beware of being covetous of what other people have, and rather be covetous for the sake of souls that all may better know, love and serve God.  Amen?

 

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3 Responses to “Laudato Si — Disturbing Prayers — Part XIV”

  1. avatar ROBERT says:

    Diane, You are a true scholar! Your careful analysis gives us a very beautiful document in which we gather more information. Pope Francis should have used the Canticle of Daniel as the basis of his writing this! Good bless you for your fine attention to the document for all to understand. Thank you.

  2. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Yes, I also thank you for these articles explaining Laudato Si. Also, I don’t like the prayer much, either. I put it in the same category as the “Prayer for Vocations” we have to pray after Mass (we do the same here in my new diocese – I think its the same prayer). Its wordy and I never find it uplifting to pray. It doesn’t seem right, yet, when you read the words there is nothing wrong with them. I appreciate your explanation of what is off with the Laudato Si prayers – maybe you could tackle the vocation prayer, too? 😀 Somehow, the “Prayer for Vocations” that sounds so dull when we read it after Mass seems the wrong approach to increasing vocations. I think that if we work towards own own holiness and obedience, as individuals, as parish, and as diocese, then vocations will naturally follow. That’s what I think.

    Well, I guess if those prayers works for some people, then fine for them. I prefer the Canticle of Daniel. And after Mass, the St. Michael Prayer. And asking Our Lady’s prayers for her Priests. That works for me.

    I think Pope Francis is just simply not a very brilliant communicator. I like what Karl Keating had to say about that in this article: http://www.catholic.com/blog/karl-keating/a-new-pope-in-2016

  3. avatar pebbles says:

    Diane, thanks so much for the scholarly time and effort you undertook to “breakdown”
    the essentials of Laudato Si. Your work needs to be shared with Catholics who have difficulty recognizing that addressing “individual spiritual poverty” i.e. sin,trumps any secular progressive attempts to save the environment or eliminate material poverty.


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