“As people of faith and goodwill, we should be united in showing mercy to the earth as our common home and cherishing the world in which we live as a place for sharing and communion.” – Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (September 1, 2016)
When I think of the Works of Mercy, I tend to think of individual actions like serving food at a soup kitchen, donating coats during the winter, or volunteering at a hospital. But as Pope Francis reminds us, “If we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.” On the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in 2016, Pope Francis introduced “Care for Our Common Home” to the traditional lists of both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This was a clear call to reaffirm our Christian vocation to be stewards of creation.
From the beginning, our Divine Creator gave us the responsibility to look after the world (Genesis 1:26-31). In his address, Pope Francis said caring for our common home “entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion.” This means recognizing our duty to care for our environment as an important way of expressing our love for God and our gratitude to him.
Furthermore, as Catholics, we worship a God who entered into the material world as part of creation. During Mass, we profess that Jesus “by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man,” and we believe in his continued presence in our physical reality. This is especially true during Mass, when “fruit of the earth . . . fruit of the vine and work of human hands” become the Eucharist: the Body and Blood of Christ. This celebration, in which God is presented to us—most especially through the conversion of bread and wine—is the core of our Catholic faith.
In Laudato Si no. 236, Pope Francis helps us understand the profound connection between the Eucharist and care for creation. “It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation . . . The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation . . . in the bread of the Eucharist, ‘creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself.’ Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.”
Here at St. Francis Catholic Worker House of Hospitality (come visit us in Chicago!), we are exploring different ways of living out our Eucharistic faith by caring for our common home.
The aim of the Catholic Worker movement, an American lay movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin during the Great Depression, is to “live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ.” As part of this legacy, we four Workers live in solidarity with the unhoused in our neighborhood, which also means living in solidarity with the land. We strive for our relationships with neighbors to be full of love and our relationship with the earth to be one of care.
Some of the concrete things we’ve done include adopting eco-friendly habits, gardening, and coordinating food rescue. We separate recycling and food waste from our trash and have three ways of composting it: a pick-up service, tumblers for yard waste, and vermiculture bins (i.e. using worms) to break down organic matter. Using this rich soil, we grow food to feed ourselves and the guests who come through our doors. Each week, we also pick up damaged or close-to-sell-by-date produce and pantry goods from local grocery stores which would normally be thrown away. Redistributing these donations helps nourish people.
Looking to the future, we’ve joined an initiative called “Solidarity Gardens,” which is an effort of the larger neighborhood and church community to care for local green space. Our hope is to build a chicken coop in our yard this spring and start collecting our own eggs.
“Solidarity Gardens is our opportunity to build just that—solidarity—and cooperation among our community through the practice of caring for the earth,” said Renee Roden, a Catholic Worker at St. Francis House. “We see our chickens as an invitation to our community to unite around our shared needs: our need for food and the ability to provide that through local relationships rather than factory farms and alienating supply chains.”
Through living out “Care for Our Common Home,” I think it is possible for us to help cultivate a world that reverences the dignity of the person and the goodness of all creation. Our Eucharistic faith nourishes us in a profound way as we strive to live in solidarity with one another and with the beautiful world God has created for us.