The National Day of Prayer formally began in 1952, but the United States has a history of prayer going back much further. There was much controversy between the founders of our nation about the scale, matter, denomination, and exercise of religion in the public sphere. We do not live in an explicitly Christian nation. Our Founding Fathers were a diverse group of people whose spirituality and religiosity fell on a spectrum ranging from explicitly religious to the more ambiguous. Most were Deist, meaning they believed in a God, but that he was a distant being who did not interact with his creation. Like the idea of the clock-maker, who builds a piece, sets it, and lets it run its own course. As Catholic Christians, we believe in a personal God; a God who wants to be so involved with us and our lives that he became flesh and dwelt among us. But what does that mean for us as American Catholics?
I think we are called to be Catholics who live out our faith in the context of an American culture, just as Catholics in France live out their faith in the context of French culture. The virtues our society recognizes, such as care for the poor, can be lived out in a deeply Catholic manner. When we are asked why we care for the poor, our response as Catholics is that humans have an inherent dignity which makes them worthy of care. Our national pride in education and scholarship can be purified with a holistic understanding of the true, good, and beautiful. The love of nature by many in our culture can be viewed as the encounter of the person with the Creator of nature. As Catholics and as citizens, we are called to own our responsibility, our duty of stewardship, to this country in which we live.
The concept of stewardship is an ancient tradition in the Church, but is often rarely mentioned beyond the context of tithing and parish finances. The USCCB begins their page on stewardship with this passage from 1 Peter: "As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace." We as Catholics have been given gifts that other Americans, our fellow citizens, may not have. We have a history and a tradition of prayer, of calling upon God for guidance and protection collectively and personally. We have a community that encourages us to live out the love of Christ for our neighbor. As Catholics, we are called to lead the way in helping those in need, such as young women facing unexpected pregnancies, veterans with mental health issues, and our youth who have a deep longing for the truth in their hearts.
Our National Day of Prayer is a day set aside for peoples of all faiths to come together and ask the Almighty for guidance. And our Father is a good Father who cares for his children. It is through his people, the Church, that he acts. As Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Show me your hands. Do they have scars from giving? Show me your feet. Are they wounded in service? Show me your heart. Have you left a place for divine love?”I know we live in what feels like a deeply turbulent time in our country and world, but if we let fear rule us then we have no room for love. Is it really the large institutions that determine our national fate, or the many actions or inactions of everyday people in ordinary situations? In The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien had Gandalf remind us, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” Let us go forth in prayer, with Christ in our hearts, and love our neighbors as He taught us.
Question for Reflection: How can your faith infuse your daily life and inspire the way you live and act?
For more resources on Faithful Citizenship, please click here.
I remember feeling refreshed when Laudato Si’ was published just over two years ago. The opening line the Pope selected, “Praise be to you, my Lord,” echoes St. Francis of Assisi’s framing of the earth as a “sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” For me, an encyclical letter being released carried the same weight as seeing a long-hyped movie on opening night; as the second-highest ranking Church document, encyclicals like Laudato Si’ carry high papal priority and are written in the Holy Father’s own hand so that their views can authoritatively end a theological debate on a particular question. I very much enjoyed reading and discussing its rich contents among my peers. In the light of Christian spirituality, the document links environmental stewardship to both authentic human ecology and also the need to care for and protect those who might suffer from rash and greedy ecological harvesting. These discussions about the encyclical continued during the school year with university-sponsored symposiums, panels, service activities, and curriculum integrations designed to continue to unpack the impressive document from what many might erroneously dismiss as simply a work about climate change and the need to live sustainably.
A few months after he released Laudato Si’, Pope Francis announced in a letter to members of the curia his intention to establish a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” on the first day of September each year. The purpose of such a day, in my opinion, is to globally unite efforts by the Church and Her collaborators regarding the care of creation—efforts that continue throughout the year and which the Church re-consecrates and re-entrusts to God as a work beyond human hands. The same goes for similar days established by previous popes and the bishops conferences such as the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, the Fortnight for Freedom, the World Day for Consecrated Life, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, World Youth Day, World Marriage Day, and others. Through the establishment of these days, the Church seeks to galvanize us with a call to action to refresh our focus and attention to matters which affect us all physically, culturally, and spiritually.
The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is geared to unite our prayers with acts of witness:
[It] will offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.
Anyone can recycle, turn off unnecessary lights, or use public transportation, but what Pope Francis invites us to do (while reiterating the “nobility… [of these] little actions”) is something much more substantial and fulfilling. Laudato Si’ is his personal call for each of us to live out an “integral ecology,” which does not neglect our relationships with God, other human beings (especially those often neglected by society), and the natural creation of Earth. Pope Francis highlights the fact that all are integrated. To allow one relationship to suffer is to allow the others to suffer as well.
The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is not intended as a rude awakening to the artificial harm being inflicted upon the planet. The natural creation that surrounds us is inherently “good” because God Himself wonderfully designed and detailed everything… and we human beings are the crowning achievement (see Genesis 1:26). When we behold His wonders, we should be moved to praise Him for everything He has set before us as part of our earthly home (see Psalms 104 and 148)! As we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, I invite you to read or reread Laudato Si’. In doing so, may we be moved to want to preserve and protect our world in recognition of its inherent dignity so future generations may continue to marvel and wonder at the works of God.
“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD be glad in his works!” -Psalm 104
Question for Reflection: How can you live out what Pope Francis calls an "integral ecology"?
For more resources on Laudato Si', please click here.