It’s like Earth Day, but with a Catholic twist. This September 1, mark the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation with your kids. Here’s how.
Okay, it’s not as snappy as “Earth Day,” but hey, it’s more spiritual…and it’s Catholic! Pope Francis established the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation jointly with the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in 2015 to help Christians address the global environmental crisis. Writing in his letter establishing the day, Pope Francis said:
As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.).
In that spirit, here are a handful of ways to mark the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation with your kids.
1. Pray for creation
The Global Catholic Climate Movement has several ideas for prayer and activities at its web page for the day, including joining the day’s Facebook prayer event. And from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, check out this Prayer Service proposed for a Holy Hour or Benediction.
Catholic Climate Covenant, a coalition of sixteen national Catholic organizations (including the USCCB), has a page dedicated to prayer resources, including hymns, prayer services, and individual prayers.
The Bible is full of many passages meditating on creation. You can share some of these ancient hymns and prayers with your kids during your Family Prayer Time. Here are a few examples:
Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers (USCCB Publishing) also contains several blessings and prayers related to nature; see the Blessing of Animals, the Blessing of the Products of Nature, and the Canticle of the Sun (Prayer of Saint Francis).
Got pets or wild animals? The Blessing of the Animals web page offers the traditional blessing of the animals, as well as Scripture references to care for animals, and St. Francis’s sermon to the birds.
How about some poetry as prayer? Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins became famous after his death for his bold, innovative style of poetry. In poems such as “The Windhover,” “Pied Beauty,” and “God’s Grandeur,” he vividly demonstrated how nature can be a window onto the transcendent. Plus, even younger kids will enjoy his playful sprung verse.
See Prayer Inspired by Nature for even more ways to incorporate the natural world into your family worship.
2. Talk to your kids about Church teaching
The Church’s teaching about our obligation to care for creation is news to a lot of Catholics…but not for your kids when you plug into these resources:
- The USCCB Environmental Justice website is your one-stop shop for resources, including a handy printable on the Season of Creation (Sept. 1 – Oct. 1), perfect for displaying on your refrigerator for older kids.
- Here’s a two-page printable primer on Catholic social teaching on the environment, perfect for family catechesis with older kids.
- Catholic Climate Covenant, a coalition of sixteen national Catholic organizations (including the USCCB), has created an excellent summary of teaching on the environment from across the tradition, including Scripture, the saints, and the teaching of bishops around the world.
- Check out Project Learning Tree’s Connecting Kids to Nature page for dozens of ideas about how to engage your kids with the natural world.
- Friending Planet Earth: Helping Youth Understand Solidarity & Sustainability in Light of Climate Change. This is a six-session program from the Center for Ministry Development and the Catholic Coalition for Climate Change geared toward parish religious education programs; however, it may be adapted for home use. The program is endorsed by the USCCB.
- Laudato Si’: Caring for Our Common Home bulletin insert. This resource from the USCCB offers a quick overview of the pope’s recent landmark encyclical on the environment.
- You can also explore Quotes from Church Teaching on Climate Change. The quotes cover the papacies of Paul VI through Benedict XVI, as well as major statements from the U.S. Catholic bishops.
- For a 60-second crash course, check out the Talking Points section at the end of this post.
And for over-achievers, here are some more in-depth resources:
- The Compendiun of the Social Doctrine of the Church’s chapter on Safeguarding the Environment provides a systematic, logical presentation of the Church’s teaching on the environment, set within the broader context of the Church’s social teaching.
- Check out Pope John Paul II’s 1990 World Day of Peace Message…
- …and the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral statement on the environment, Renewing the Earth…
- …and get all sorts of ways to dip into Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.
Finally, here are a couple of videos produced by the Church to spread the word about its teaching:
3. Read stories of saints who befriended God’s creatures
The next time you are sitting around the campfire, read the story of a saint whose love of God was expressed in his or her love of God’s creation. Saint Francis of Assisi is an obvious example, but Ethel Pochocki proposes other animal- and nature-loving saints in her kid-friendly Once Upon a Time Saints series: Comgall (friend of swans and mice); Felix (friend of spiders);Hubert (protector of deer); Kentigern (brought a bird back to life); Martin de Porres (veterinarian and friend of animals, especially mice); Melangell(protector of wildlife, especially rabbits); Pharaildis (friend of animals, restored a dead goose); and Rigobert (befriended a goose), to name a few. At the end of the story, incorporate the saint into a prayer of gratitude for the beauty of God’s creation.
Or share some of these saint quotes about creation with your kids:
“It is He, beneficent Nature, Goodness without measure, a worthy object of love for all beings endowed with reason, the beauty the most to be desired, the origin of all that exists, the source of life, intellectual light, impenetrable wisdom, it is He who ’in the beginning created heaven and earth.’” St. Basil the Great, Homily in Hexaemeron I “Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things…All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without we cannot survive.” St. Hildegard of Bingen “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” St. Francis of Assisi “Throughout the entire creation, the wisdom of God shines forth from Him and in Him, as in a mirror containing the beauty of all forms and lights and as in a book in which all things are written according to the deep secrets of God…Truly, whoever reads this book will find life and will draw salvation from the Lord.” St. Bonaventure Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
“It is He, beneficent Nature, Goodness without measure, a worthy object of love for all beings endowed with reason, the beauty the most to be desired, the origin of all that exists, the source of life, intellectual light, impenetrable wisdom, it is He who ’in the beginning created heaven and earth.’” St. Basil the Great, Homily in Hexaemeron I
“Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things…All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without we cannot survive.” St. Hildegard of Bingen
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” St. Francis of Assisi
“Throughout the entire creation, the wisdom of God shines forth from Him and in Him, as in a mirror containing the beauty of all forms and lights and as in a book in which all things are written according to the deep secrets of God…Truly, whoever reads this book will find life and will draw salvation from the Lord.” St. Bonaventure
Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
4. Take action
After praying for the care of creation, your family might be inspired to take action.
Start by Making a family commitment to caring for the environment in the context of your Catholic faith by taking the Saint Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor available over at the Catholic Coalition for Climate Change. Then, sit down and make an action plan as a family.
Season of Creation has an entire website devoted to the ecumenical Season of Creation, which runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Its resources include ways to spread the word, join a #beautyofcreation social media movement, participate in divestment efforts, or join in related events in your area.
Talking Points: Meeting God in the Natural World
Looking for a crash course on the Church’s teaching on the environment? Look no further! Here are some talking points to emphasize with your kids:
► We can encounter God in nature. Since ancient times, the natural world has been one of the ways that people come to know about God and experience his wisdom and glory (Catechism of the Catholic Church #32 and #299; Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #487). Many of the saints lived in harmony with the natural world and had special friendships with animals as a consequence of their closeness to God (see the partial list above).
► We still need the Church. Your older kids might ask: “If we can encounter God in nature, why do we need the Church? Why can’t nature be our church?” It is important for them to understand that the Church isn’t just another human organization; rather, it is both a sign of our communion with God and the unity of the human race, and the means by which our union with God and other people is accomplished (Catechism #775). Catholics say that the Church is the sacrament of Christ—the means by which Christ is physically manifested in the world, and by which he continues his saving work. So even though the beauty of the night sky or the mystery of life unfolding in a stream might lift our minds to God, it is only in the Church that we are saved from the power of sin and death (see Catechism #846-847).
► God intends creation for our good. Our faith teaches us to treat our natural environment within the context of God’s overall plan of salvation (Compendium #451). God intends the created world to serve the good of human beings, who are the “summit” of his creation (Catechism #343). The Church rejects any view that values the environment as much as or more than human beings, or makes creation into a sort of god. We are called to care for creation in part to preserve it for the benefit of all human beings, including future generations (Catechism #2415).
► God calls on us to respect creation for its own sake. The Church also rejects views that reduce the natural world to something to be manipulated and exploited (Compendium #463). Creation has its own intrinsic value, for the simple reason that God made it and called it “good” (Genesis 1); God loves and cares for each of his creatures (Catechism #342; 2416), so we should, too.