[A new guide for the examination of conscience and confession of sins]
[“Miserere nostri, Domine, quia peccavimus
tibi circumiecto (Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned against Thee the environment)”; hat-tip to Canon212: “Cd. Turkson: Have mercy on ‘our common home’ Francis wants you to confess your sins against it!”]
Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson
… When Pope Francis announced that the Catholic Church would also mark this day of prayer for creation, he noted that it would “offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity … to implore [God’s] … pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”
So for a first papal message for the Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation to come during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is very appropriate. For we are being asked to show mercy to our common home—to acknowledge and repent for our sins against creation, and to amend our ways through the merciful grace of God.
The first step in this process is to humbly acknowledge the harm we are doing to the earth through pollution, the scandalous destruction of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, and the spectre of climate change—which seems nearer and more dangerous with each passing year. And to realize that when we hurt the earth, we also hurt the poor, whom God loves without limit.
Pope Francis is asking us to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that this is sin—sin against creation, against the poor, against those who have not yet been born. This means that we must examine our consciences and repent. I realize that this is not the way we traditionally think about sin. These are sins, Pope Francis says, that “we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed.”
But we are now called upon to do so. This means we need to take a long and hard look at our lifestyles, especially when they reflect a “disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.”
But it goes even deeper. A genuine examination of conscience would recognize not only our individual failings but also our institutional failings. As Pope Francis says, “we are participants in a system that ‘has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.’” This implicates all of us in one way or another.
If we truly desire to repent, we can confess our sins against the Creator, creation, and our brothers and sisters. And “the merciful grace of God received in the sacrament will help us to do so.”
Once we have done this, Pope Francis says, we are ready to amend our lives and change course. This adjustment also has an individual and institutional dimension. Individually, we are called to “ecological conversion” in our daily lives. We should not think that our efforts—even our small gestures—don’t matter. Virtue, including ecological virtue, can be infectious—one person’s good example can encourage others to do better.
Yet individual initiative, important though it is, is not sufficient to turn the ship around. Ecological conversion entails not only individual conversion, but community conversion too. We need a conversion of economics and politics—away from an obsession with short-term and self-centred financial or electoral gains, and toward a true appreciation of the common good.
This is brought into stark relief when we consider the sustainable development agenda. Pope Francis praises the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change last year. But for this agenda to succeed, it will require a heroic amount of political will and a heroic effort by business and economic interests. This too is part of what Pope Francis means by a “firm purpose of amendment.”
Yet are we seeing that adjustment? Are we amending our ways? On climate change, the global community has drawn a red line under a rise in global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius. This is will require a complete shift away from fossil fuels toward renewables by about 2070. This is a momentous undertaking. But have we as a society truly deliberated on what this means, and what it will take to get there? We have not. And the Paris Agreement puts 2 degrees Celsius as the upper limit, and asks us to try to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead. This is exponentially more difficult, and it will require an even stronger “firm purpose of amendment.” Are we up to the task?
This is the responsibility of all of us. Pope Francis says it is up to citizens to insist that these commitments are honoured, and to advocate for more ambitious goals. As one example from Laudato Si’, he suggests that social pressure—including from boycotting certain products—can force businesses to consider their environmental footprint and patterns of production. The same logic animates the fossil fuel divestment movement.
Let us also not forget the global solidarity dimension. As part of paying down their “ecological debt” to their poorer neighbours, richer countries need to provide them with needed financial and technical support. This too is a component of the “firm purpose of amendment.”
Following this amendment of our lives and institutions, Pope Francis is calling us toward a new work of mercy. For as he says, “nothing unites us to God more than an act of mercy, for it is by mercy that the Lord forgives our sins and gives us the grace to practice acts of mercy in his name.” This is really the final step of ecological conversion, a true internalization of an ecological sensibility. So we are being asked to complement both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy with care for our common home …