Engage in ecological issues in a peaceful way

William Patenaude

“The weapon the devil has most at the ready for destroying the Church from within is division.”

So said Pope Francis a few weeks ago when speaking to recently ordained bishops serving in missionary territories.

This struck me given that of late I’ve been thinking about such division. As I was busy this summer completing a long-overdue manuscript, issues of disunity within the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church were making headlines.

Take, for instance, comments by the Vatican’s liturgical chief, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who warned against the liturgy being seen as “a human work, a self-celebration of the community” rather than the work of Christ. He also urged the ad orientum posture of the priest at Mass, which means that the celebrant faces the same direction as the people as he prays on our behalf.

After Cardinal Sarah spoke, internet servers across the globe lit up with blinding intensity. In blogs and throughout social media, ideological camps within the Church went to war. Some supported the cardinal’s call for ad orientum posture. Some argued against it. In all, this served only to widen already harmful and scandalous fissures within the Church.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of profoundly beautiful liturgy, whether or not the celebrant is facing me or the same direction as I am. My more general concern is liturgy-as-entertainment, which when I was fifteen was one of the reasons I felt that the Church had little to offer the world — which was a factor in why for two decades after my Confirmation I renounced the Catholic faith.

But as noted last week in an excellent editorial on these pages (“Sacraments not ‘warm and fuzzy’ sermons keep Catholics coming back”), “[t]he reverent and sincere celebration of the liturgy (in any form, facing any direction) invokes the Spirit that feeds and fortifies the faithful for the week ahead and will keep them coming back for more.”

This reminder of the priority of the Holy Spirit is uniquely important for Catholics who care for creation. The Mass must be the beginning, center, and ending of all human activity intended for the protection of the natural and human environment. When considered in this way, the prayers and the music of the Mass take on added meaning — as they should whenever we consider that all true liturgies and all offerings of grace are divine dialogues with creation with the intention of elevating it.

For the record, I prefer the ad orientum posture and I would like to see more of it. And I wonder at the anger that arises so often when people like me say things like that.

But let’s face facts: for decades now our ancient enemy has been pitting Catholics against each other over the very important reality of how the Mass is said.

It’s no wonder, then, that Catholics are also divided on other issues — like how or even if we should dive into contemporary efforts to protect creation.

From toxic pollutions disrupting the development of the unborn, to air and water pollution’s impact on the poor and elderly — from habitat loss to harmful changes in our climate to unsustainable production and consumption practices—to say nothing of immoral supply chain issues — ecology is a Catholic concern, and yet not all Catholics agree that this is so, or how it should be dealt with.

But then, if our ancient enemy is going to divide us over how we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it comes as no surprise that he will attempt to divide us over worldly issues — such as how to protect the great life-sustaining garden given to us by God.

This is why, then, Catholics must not only engage ecological issues in worldly ways, we must first and foremost engage it in a prayerful way. Because also as noted in last week’s editorial, “[f]rom the altar to the confessional, the Church must trust God’s grace more than man’s talents.”

William Patenaude, M.A., KHS, is an engineer with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He writes at CatholicEcology.net.