Pope Francis is making history in good ways in my estimation. I know he makes some people uneasy. Since I am not a Roman Catholic, there are some things that don’t pertain to me and I don’t have to worry about. I like what he is doing on behalf of the poor and marginal in our societies. Obviously, this causes some dis-ease among those of us who have plenty. I am not rich, but compared to the world, I am one of those who has plenty.
I like what the pope is doing around the climate issues and ecology. I am part of the generation that often was the object of scoffs about tree-huggers. Sometimes folks would suggest there is a conflict between trees and jobs. The implication was that you could care about the environment and leave tons of people out of jobs and, therefore, economically destitute. Or you could provide for the welfare of the many at the expense of taking care of our world.
I think this “conflict” ultimately will prove to be not true. Both are so important that it cannot finally be an either/or. The wise and savvy people will figure out how to address both issues and make money and make a better world. This is not wishful thinking. It is a valid and valuable way to look at things. So I appreciate the pope trying to raise consciousness and marshal our efforts to successful outcomes.
It is against that backdrop that I read a report of a recent papal address on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. That title is very clear and self-explanatory. I like the focus of Pope Francis. The periodical I was reading gave a clear indication in the title what Francis was addressing. The author of the article, Cindy Wooden, entitles it this way: “Contemplate, give thanks, protect: Pope Francis prays for Creation.”
“Leading prayers for the safeguarding of creation, Pope Francis prayed that people learn to contemplate God in the beauty of creation, give thanks and protect all life.” That is wonderful advice. Immediately I thought that it would be a great three- class sequence to teach. I could have one course on learning to contemplate God in the beauty of creation.
That sounds so simple, but I suspect it is not often practiced. Currently I teach a course on Contemplative Spirituality. So much of the material is fairly simple, but most students don’t do any of it. And they continue to live lives that are too busy, too stressed and often not filled with much meaning. They live in a beautiful world, but they are unaware. Much of contemplative living is living with awareness. Awareness is the key to all the rest.
Living with awareness is like having your eyes open as you move through your days and do your activities. Awareness allows you to see what has been there all along. Saying that seems so obvious, but I know all too well that many of us are sleepwalking through our lives. We are busy, but not doing any worthwhile business. We are pre-occupied without conscious awareness to occupy ourselves with the good, true and beautiful that we should be choosing.
Pope Francis offers a great place to begin learning to contemplate God. See and grasp the beauty of creation. Where I live we are graced with seasons. The beauty of the first snowfall. The splendor of the autumn season that precedes that winter snow. Spring is unmatched when you have been through a hard winter. And the hazy, lazy days of summer have their own grace. This is a wonderful place to learn to contemplate God.
If we can manage this, then we are in a good place to be thankful for the gift of beauty of this world. When was the last time you gave thanks for your world? Giving thanks is not so much a word, as it is an attitude. I like to think of thanksgiving as a positive posture. Whatever happens can be a resource for thanks. Something like cancer might seen to be an exception to this. Of course, no one wants to deal with that kind of malady, but even cancer can lead to some amazing experiences worth giving thanks. I have to remind myself: change your attitude. Maintain that positive posture of thanksgiving.
Having done that, I am ready for the third step of Pope Francis, namely, protect. I think he is correct that a job for all of us is to protect our environment---our mutual home called this world. Just as I don’t want someone coming into my house and polluting it, neither should we put up with any of us polluting our cosmic house. It is easy to think that it is not my job to do this. “Other people are not doing it; why should I?” is a common retort. That is pure selfishness.
Pope Francis’ call to contemplate God in the beauty of the creation, give thanks and protect is not some kind of Catholic thing. It is a call for humans to be fully human---to share and care for the world, for each other and for God.