By Sister Mary C. Sullivan
I make this request on October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi and the last day of the annual Season of Creation, because I feel I must. I cannot remain silent. I am asking myself, you, the whole Mercy family, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and everyone who will listen, to STUDY what is happening, to CHANGE what we are doing and to STOP some of it.
We are already experiencing many disastrous effects of the ongoing climate crisis we ourselves have caused. If we do not stop valuing and doing certain things, if we do not change our current behavior and our so-called “lifestyles,” we will all inevitably experience even worse catastrophic conditions, such that no human being, no law, no nation, no powerful figure or hierarchy will then be able to reverse them.
The coming devastation is not remote. Most of it is less than 10 years off. We in the Americas will not escape it. The best we can do is slow it down and avert some of it, by responding now, with God’s immense help and guidance, to our new and comprehensive mission of Mercy, the one Jesus Christ is most persistently calling us to embrace now, in the twenty-first century:
“Repair my Church, repair the Earth.”
The vocation of Francis of Assisi (1181/1182–1226) unfolded just as ours has unfolded. At first—when he heard Christ say to him, “Francis, go and restore my house because it is in ruins,” he thought that Christ meant those words only literally: “Get some new stones and wood and fix the dilapidated physical structure of the Portiuncula and San Damiano churches.”
Later, Francis realized that Christ was calling him to “repair” the larger, deeper, spiritual “ruin” of the church family itself, the whole people of God—to heal their mistaken pursuit of power and privilege, their exclusive sense of supremacy and their failure to embrace marginalized peoples and to heed and follow the Gospel of Jesus.
Still later, in 1225, when he composed the first verses of “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” Francis understood that Christ was asking him to cherish and repair our whole created reality, our common home, our Sister Mother Earth.
And this is what Jesus Christ is saying to us today—on behalf of our severely degraded, dilapidated Sister Earth. This call requires two new actions:
- An ecological re-education of our consciences with a thorough conversion of our consciousness and lifestyle, and
- Bold public action, now, not next year.
In general, this means at least the following: We must begin to see ourselves as sisters and brothers of all created life and of all humanity, not as privileged overlords.
We must change the way we live and stop excessively consuming Earth’s resources at a selfish and unsustainable rate; stop grabbing for ourselves, then wasting, resources that belong to others; stop “throwing away” or destroying vulnerable peoples and species, the limited food and water Earth can provide, the great oxygen-producing forests, the needed pollinators, and the beneficial glaciers at the North and South Poles.
And we must get over our shy reluctance to speak out boldly and publicly. We must, with God’s providential “push” and unfailing help, tell our religious and civic leaders the following:
- Stop producing and using fossil fuels—coal, oil and natural gas—and start transitioning to solar, wind and hydroelectric energy now.
- Invest money now in this transition, even if it means suffering a temporary financial pinch in, less critical areas.
- Stop producing and using Earth-destructive products, such as plastics, certain pesticides, gasoline-powered automobiles and the meat of beef cattle.
- Stop heating and cooling your homes and offices more than is truly necessary.
We are asked to “repair” our understanding of the community of all humanity and all created life and to tangibly “repair” our planet Earth—now, not some day in the future when it is more convenient.
And we are asked to proclaim these urgent messages not only quietly to ourselves, in the privacy of our daily contemplation, but also publicly to our industrial, civic and religious leaders—even to our hardworking Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, to our bishops and to our Congressional representatives. To all, we must politely but strongly say: “Act now; time is very short; the climate catastrophes are already unfolding, but together we can mitigate and avert some aspects of them.”
What is needed now is large-scale organizational change. Our personal recycling of sheets of paper, some bottles and a few cans is necessary and needed, but it is not enough.
Does all of this sound like the St. Francis of Assisi you’ve always known? I hope so, because I truly believe that this is what he would say and what he is saying to us today as he stands beside and speaks on behalf of our merciful Creator:
“Repair my Church, repair all human relations,
repair the Earth Home I have given you
as your Sister, Brother, and Mother.”