Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation [1st September 2024] (27 June 2024) (2024)

Hope and Act with Creation

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“Hope and Act with Creation” is the theme of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, to be held on 1 September 2024. The theme is drawn from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:19-25), where the Apostle explains what it means for us to live according to the Spirit and focuses on the sure hope of salvation that is born of faith, namely, newness of life in Christ.

1. Let us begin with a question, one perhaps without an immediately obvious answer. If we are truly believers, how did we come to have faith? It is not simply because we believe in something transcendent, beyond the power of reason, the unattainable mystery of a distant and remote God, invisible and unnameable. Rather, as Saint Paul tells us, it is because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are believers because the very love of God “has been poured into our hearts” ( Rom 5:5) and the Spirit is now truly “the pledge of our inheritance” ( Eph 1:14), constantly prompting us to strive for eternal goods, according to the fullness of Jesus’ authentic humanity. The Spirit enables believers to be creative and pro-active in charity. He sends us forth on a great journey of spiritual freedom, yet one that does not eliminate the tension between the Spirit’s way of thinking and that of the world, whose fruits are opposed to each other (cf. Gal 5:16-17). We know that the first fruit of the Spirit, which sums up all the others, is love. Led by the Holy Spirit, believers are children of God and can turn to him with the words “Abba, Father” ( Rom 8:15), just as Jesus did. Moreover, they can do so with the freedom of those who no longer fall back into the fear of death, for Jesus has risen from the dead. This is our great hope: God’s love has triumphed and continues to triumph over everything. Indeed, even in the face of physical death, future glory is already assured for those who live the new life of the Spirit. Nor does this hope disappoint, as was affirmed in the recent Bull of Indiction of the forthcoming Jubilee. [1]

2. The life of a Christian, then, is one of faith, active in charity and abounding in hope, as we await the Lord’s return in glory. We are not troubled by the “delay” of the Parousia, Christ’s second coming; for us the important question is whether, “when the Son of man comes, he will find faith on earth” (Lk 18:8). Faith is a gift, the fruit of the Spirit’s presence in us, but it is also a task to be undertaken freely, in obedience to Jesus’ commandment of love. Such is the blessed hope to which we must bear witness. Yet where, when, and how are we to bear that witness? Surely by caring for the flesh of suffering humanity. As people who dare to dream, we must dream with our eyes wide open, impelled by a desire for love, fraternity, friendship and justice for all. Christian salvation enters into the depths of the world’s suffering, which embraces not only humanity but also the entire universe, nature itself, and the oikos, the home and living environment of humanity. Salvation embraces creation as an “earthly paradise,” mother earth, which is meant to be a place of joy and a promise of happiness for all. Our Christian optimism is founded on a living hope: it realizes that everything is ordered to the glory of God, to final consummation in his peace and to bodily resurrection in righteousness, as we pass “from glory to glory.” Nonetheless, in the passage of time we are not exempt from pain and suffering: the whole creation groans (cf. Rom 8:19-22), we Christians groan (cf. vv. 23-25) and the Spirit himself groans (cf. vv. 26-27). This groaning expresses apprehension and suffering, together with longing and desire. It gives voice to our trust in God and our reliance on his loving yet demanding presence in our midst, as we look forward to the fulfilment of his plan, which is joy, love and peace in the Holy Spirit.

3. The whole of creation is caught up in this process of new birth and, in groaning, looks forward to its liberation. This entails an unseen and imperceptible process of growth, like that of “a mustard seed that becomes a great tree” or “leaven in the dough” (cf. Mt 13:31-33). The beginnings are tiny, but the expected results can prove to be infinite in their beauty. Similar to the anticipation of a birth – the revelation of the children of God – hope can be seen as the possibility of remaining steadfast amid adversity, of not losing heart in times of tribulation or in the face of human evil. Christian hope does not disappoint, nor does it deceive. The groaning of creation, of Christians and of the Spirit is the anticipation and expectation of a salvation already at work; all the same, we continue to find ourselves enduring what Saint Paul describes as “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword” ( Rom 8:35). Hope, then, is an alternative reading of history and human affairs. It is not illusory, but realistic, with the realism of a faith that sees what is unseen. This hope is patient expectation, like that of Abraham. I think of that great visionary believer, Joachim of Fiore, the Calabrian abbot who, in the words of Dante Alighieri, “was endowed with a spirit of prophecy”. [2] At a time of violent conflicts between the Papacy and the Empire, the Crusades, the outbreak of heresies and growing worldliness in the Church, Joachim was able to propose the ideal of a new spirit of coexistence among people, based on universal fraternity and Christian peace, the fruit of a life lived in the spirit of the Gospel. I spoke of this spirit of social friendship and universal fraternity in Fratelli Tutti, but this harmony among men and women should also be extended to creation, in a “situated anthropocentrism” ( Laudate Deum, 67) and in a sense of responsibility for a humane and integral ecology, the path to salvation for our common home and for us who inhabit it.

4. Why is there so much evil in the world? Why so much injustice, so many fratricidal wars that kill children, destroy cities, pollute the environment and leave mother earth violated and devastated? Implicitly evoking the sin of Adam, Saint Paul states: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now” (Rom 8:22). The moral struggles of Christians are linked to the “groaning” of creation, ever since the latter “was subjected to futility” (v. 20). The entire universe and every creature therein groans and yearns “impatiently” for its present condition to be overcome and its original state to be restored. Our liberation thus includes that of all other creatures who, in solidarity with the human condition, were placed under the yoke of slavery. Creation itself, like humanity, was enslaved, albeit through no fault of its own, and finds itself unable to fulfil the lasting meaning and purpose for which it was designed. It is subject to dissolution and death, aggravated by the human abuse of nature. At the same time, the salvation of humanity in Christ is a sure hope also for creation, for, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Consequently, thanks to Christ’s redemption, it is possible to contemplate in hope the bond of solidarity between human beings and all other creatures.

5. In our hopeful and persevering expectation of the glorious return of Jesus, the Holy Spirit keeps us, the community of believers, vigilant; he continually guides us and calls us to conversion, to a change in lifestyle in order to resist the degradation of our environment and to engagement in that social critique which is above all a witness to the real possibility of change. This conversion entails leaving behind the arrogance of those who want to exercise dominion over others and nature itself, reducing the latter to an object to be manipulated, and instead embracing the humility of those who care for others and for all of creation. “When human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies” (Laudate Deum, 73), for Adam’s sin has tainted our fundamental relationships, namely with God, with ourselves, with one another and with the universe. All these relationships need to be integrally restored, saved and “put right”. None of them can be overlooked, for if even one is lacking, everything else fails.

6. To hope and act with creation, then, means above all to join forces and to walk together with all men and women of good will. In this way, we can help to rethink, “among other things, the question of human power, its meaning and its limits. Our power has frenetically increased in a few decades. We have made impressive and awesome technological advances, yet we have not realized that at the same time we have turned into highly dangerous beings, capable of threatening the lives of many beings and our own survival” (Laudate Deum, 28). Unchecked power creates monsters and then turns against us. Today, then, there is an urgent need to set ethical limits on the development of artificial intelligence, since its capacity for calculation and simulation could be used for domination over humanity and nature, instead of being harnessed for the service of peace and integral development (cf. Message for the World Day of Peace 2024).

7. “The Holy Spirit accompanies us at every moment of our lives”. This was clearly understood by the boys and girls assembled in Saint Peter’s Square for the first World Day of Children, which was held on Trinity Sunday. God is not an abstract notion of infinity, but the loving Father, the Son who is the friend and redeemer of every person, and the Holy Spirit who guides our steps on the path of charity. Obedience to the Spirit of love radically changes the way we think: from “predators”, we become “tillers” of the garden. The earth is entrusted to our care, yet continues to belong to God (cf. Lev 25:23). This is the “theological anthropocentrism” that marks the Judeo-Christian tradition. To claim the right to possess and dominate nature, manipulating it at will, thus represents a form of idolatry, a Promethean version of man who, intoxicated by his technocratic power, arrogantly places the earth in a “dis-graced” condition, deprived of God’s grace. Indeed, if the grace of God is Jesus, who died and rose again, then the words of Benedict XVI certainly ring true: “It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love” (Spe Salvi, 26), the love of God in Christ, from which nothing and no one can ever separate us (cf. Rom 8:38-39). Creation, then, is not static or closed in on itself, but is continuously drawn towards its future. Today, thanks to the discoveries of contemporary physics, the link between matter and spirit presents itself in an ever more intriguing way to our understanding.

8. The protection of creation, then, is not only an ethical issue, but one that is eminently theological, for it is the point where the mystery of man and the mystery of God intersect. This intersection can be called “creative”, since it originates in the act of love by which God created human beings in Christ. That creative act of God enables and grounds the freedom and morality of all human activity. We are free precisely because we were created in the image of God who is Jesus Christ, and, as a result, are “representatives” of creation in Christ himself. A transcendent (theological-ethical) motivation commits Christians to promoting justice and peace in the world, not least through the universal destination of goods. It is a matter of the revelation of the children of God that creation awaits, groaning as in the pangs of childbirth. At stake is not only our earthly life in history, but also, and above all, our future in eternity, the eschaton of our blessedness, the paradise of our peace, in Christ, the Lord of the cosmos, crucified and risen out of love.

9. To hope and act with creation, then, means to live an incarnational faith, one that can enter into the suffering and hope-filled “flesh” of others, by sharing in the expectation of the bodily resurrection to which believers are predestined in Christ the Lord. In Jesus, the eternal Son who took on human flesh, we are truly children of the Father. Through faith and baptism, our life in the Spirit begins (cf. Rom 8:2), a holy life, lived as children of the Father, like Jesus (cf. Rom 8:14-17), since by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in us (cf. Gal 2:20). In this way, our lives can become a song of love for God, for humanity, with and for creation, and find their fullness in holiness. [3]

Rome, Saint John Lateran, 27 June 2024

FRANCIS

[1]Cf. Bull of Indiction of the Ordinary Jubilee of the Year 2025 Spes Non Confundit (9 May 2024).

[2] The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, Canto XII, 141.

[3]The Rosminian priest Clemente Rebora expressed this poetically: “As creation ascends in Christ to the Father, all in a mysterious way become the travail of birth. How much dying is required if life is to be born! Yet from one Mother alone, who is divine, we come happily into the light. We are born to a life that love brings forth in tears. Its yearning, here below, is poetry; but holiness alone can finish the song” ( Curriculum vitae, “Poesia e santità”: Poesie, prose e traduzioni, Milan 2015, p. 297).

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation [1st September 2024] (27 June 2024) (2024)

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