First published in The Criterion on June 9, 2017
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17).
With these words, Jesus began his public ministry. To repent is to take a new path—a path that leads us closer to God and to the person he is calling each of us to be.
Every year during the season of Lent, we are supposed to take time to examine our lives and see where we fall short. Through the Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, we strive for the elusive goal of metanoia—a transformative change of heart.
In his encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis recognizes the ecological crisis as a “summons to profound interior conversion.” He calls for Christians to undergo an
“ ‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. 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” (#217).
For several parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, this year’s Lenten season was an opportunity to explore ecological conversion by using a program called Lent 4.2. Lent 4.2 is a seven-week faith formation program of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to heed the pope’s call to care for our common home. Through a weekly bulletin insert, parishioners learn how their everyday lives are connected to the ecological crisis and how they can take practical steps toward a world where God’s gift of creation is cherished and cared for.
The parishes that used the program reported that the series was well received. Father Michael Hoyt, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, thought the bulletin inserts were very well done, and that many of their parishioners read and reflected on the information. They also had a small-group discussion based on the inserts.
Some parishes, such as St. Rose of Lima in Franklin, went beyond the weekly inserts and had weekly discussion sessions using the companion book, Christian Simplicity. St. Rose of Lima and
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis expanded on the weekly themes of consumption, food, water, energy and transportation by inviting speakers from related local businesses and organizations. Speakers came to St. Rose from two recycling centers, Kroger, Vectren Energy, and Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District. Speakers at
St. Thomas came from Marian University, Hoosier Environmental Council, Sierra Club and Bread for the World. Discussions were lively and energizing.
Each insert has many ideas for how parishioners can make concrete changes in their personal lives. Becoming aware of these issues can also lead to changes in the culture and operation of the parish itself.
Parishes are looking at ways they can reduce their use of disposable tableware and increase their use of recycling. Replacing incandescent and fluorescent lights with LED lights leads to energy savings and a lower utility bill. At St. Thomas Aquinas, energy efficiency goals have been included as part of a capital campaign to raise money for needed heating, venting and air-conditioning upgrades and other necessary maintenance.
Conversion is not easy. Even with raised awareness and a change in heart, changing a lifetime of habits is a difficult and slow process.
For those parishes that wish to begin or continue their own ecological conversion, resources are available. The archdiocesan Commission for Creation Care Ministry can support parishes by providing resources and by building a network of parishes committed to the principles set forth by Pope Francis in “Laudato Si.’ ”
Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18). Pentecost, which we celebrated last weekend, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.
As we move beyond Pentecost, let us invite the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts and strengthen us as we pursue the important work of protecting God’s creation.
(Sharon Horvath is a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis and ArchIndy Creation Care Commission).