In this season of Lent, we are invited to step back and closely examine our lives and our hearts. It is not an invitation to a mere moment of reflection, but to a deep, challenging, and rewarding journey of repentance and renewal. At the end of this six-week journey is the joy of Easter – but before it lies re-conversion and recommitment to loving God and our neighbor with our whole hearts.
This Lent, we invite you to reflect on a certain dimension of conversion: ecological conversion. Pope Francis defines ecological conversion as occurring when “the effects of [our] encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in [our] relationship with the world around [us]…We come to realize that a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change.”
In today’s first reading, the prophet Joel begins the journey of Lent by calling us to conversion: “return to [God] with your whole heart.” What does this truly mean? How is it related to ecological conversion?
Today’s gospel offers us some first steps. It lays out the three pillars of Lenten practice: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, or action for charity and justice. It emphasizes that we are meant to carry out these practices humbly, not seeking attention or praise, but directing our full attention towards loving God, our neighbor, and all creation.
Returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner Dave Kane writes, “As a human family, we have become unaware of, and insensitive to, how our actions and lifestyles contribute to the destruction of both God’s creation and human dignity.” In moving through our days, how often are we aware of how our lifestyle choices – our purchases, travel, food, trash – are related to the earth? Where do things come from, and where are they going? Whom will our actions harm, and whom will they benefit?
For example, the issue of plastic pollution grows larger every year. Scientists tell us that every bit of plastic that has ever been created is still in existence. About 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced since 1950. Chemicals in plastic are toxic to plants, animals, and humans. Vulnerable people around the world are most exposed to toxins from plastic. However, we largely carry on contributing to the problem, blind to how it affects the poor, the earth, and our relationship with God.
We can begin to approach these large questions and problems by learning to listen – beginning with silence before God and holy attention to the world around us. Pope Benedict XVI, quoted in Laudato Si’, said, “We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary… But rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others…and motivates us to greater concerns for nature and the poor.”
Let us practice returning with our whole hearts to God by listening carefully for what God is telling us in what Pope Francis calls “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” After we have listened, we can begin to repent of the harm we have done to our relationships with God, neighbor, and all creation and take steps toward renewal.
Ash Wednesday: Top image of candles in the public domain and available at http://bit.ly/candlesLent. Photo of boy in garbage dump, Brazil, licensed in the creative commons 2.0 and available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/geoglauco/1376828468.
An ecological examen in the Ignatian tradition.
The examen has several steps. Begin by placing yourself in a quiet place and a posture of openness to the Holy Spirit.
Gratitude: I ask for the grace to look closely to see how my life choices impact creation and the poor and vulnerable. How can I turn away from a throwaway culture and instead stand in solidarity with creation and the poor?
Awareness: I ask for the grace of conversion towards ecological justice and reconciliation. Where have I fallen short in caring for creation and my brothers and sisters?
Understanding: I ask for the grace to reconcile my relationship with God, creation, and humanity, and to stand in solidarity through my actions. How can I repair my relationship with creation and make choices consistent with my desire for reconciliation with creation?
Conversion: I offer a closing prayer for the earth and the vulnerable in our society.
- Ignatian Solidarity Network
Take a break from electronic entertainment - TV, computer use, cell phone use. Pay attention to the people in front of you and the natural scenes around you instead. Try to grow comfortable with quiet and stillness.
Read about efforts to ban the sale of single-use plastics by certain state and local governments in the United States. This week, refrain from using single-use plastic, such as plastic bags, silverware, bottles, etc.
Maryknoll Missioner Experience
“In the 1950’s, the city [I once lived in in Brazil] started to throw its trash into the swamp and, after so many years, the garbage had built up into a forty-acre island over a hundred feet deep. Until 2003, when the city opened a new landfill, hundreds of men, women and children lived on top of that island and sorted through the city’s refuse...slugging through knee-high mud, they worked long hours to earn minimal incomes.”
- Dave Kane, Returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner*
*Thank you to the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns for permission to share this Lenten Guide at springfieldop.org.