by Fr David Stewart SJ
As the Holy Father’s own prayer group, we in the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network are entrusted with his monthly prayer intention. Our mission is to share it widely among the people of God, in our parishes and chaplaincies, communities and families. With the Pope, we want to change our hearts, to be more ready to carry out Christ’s mission in the world. Together with this month’s Intention, we shall also be preparing to receive the Intention for October. We’ll prepare to unite our prayer with the Pope’s in the special Extraordinary Month of Mission, October 2019. There is a close link between the two months.
THE WORLD’S SEAS AND OCEANS
First, the September Intention; it’s topical, urgent and gives us both an opportunity and a challenge.
It asks us to consider the environment, our God-given common home, as the Pope called our world in his great letter, Laudato Si’, published just over four years ago. His intention for September is for the protection of the oceans: ‘That politicians, scientists and economists work together to protect the world’s seas and oceans’. This urgent request for our prayers and action comes when awareness is growing of just how pressing this question is. At last, we’re waking up and opening our eyes to a disaster that has already begun. More and more of us are taking seriously how little time is left to act, to avert the catastrophe.
THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
Responsible scientific research constantly reveals ever more frightening facts about the degradation of the oceans and seas. The dangerous incidence of waste plastic in our oceans, highlighted by recent television programmes, is now better known. We have also been hearing about large quantities of minute plastic particles found in snow, an immediate threat to both animal and human life.
We read, daily, of heatwave conditions in the Arctic causing accelerated loss of glaciers which, in turn, will quicken the rise of sea levels and further affect climate patterns. Most of us know that scientists predict a global temperature rise of 1.5-2ºC which requires urgent, large-scale preventative action in only a few years. Governments are not yet responding with urgency; individuals are not yet changing behaviour as we really need to.
THE FAITH PERSPECTIVE
In our booklet Living Prayer 2019 (details below), naturalist and campaigner Mary Colwell writes in the September reflection: ‘The vastness of an ocean draws us to God. To stand at the edge of such an unknowable, deep and mysterious part of the earth pierces our soul with yearning. The surface of the sea can be implacable and soothing, or it can rage in a broiling turmoil that instils a fear that is unmatched.’
God draws us in through creation; who cannot be moved by the vast majesty of the ocean, the sheer wonder of our earth, be it sea, mountain or forest? Colwell reminds us: ‘Below the waves are landforms we can only imagine – mountain ranges, canyons, trenches and vast plains. They are inhabited by creatures that have no equivalent on land, alien life that glows and pulsates in utter blackness. Discovering this strange world reminds us that God has plans that range far beyond our human lives.’
Our prayer this month, with the Pope, is to be open to that vastness: of the ocean, of God’s never-ending creative dream, and of our human responsibility for its tarnishing and even destruction. If we let our prayer change our hearts, we will discover what each of us is called to do.
EXTRAORDINARY MONTH OF MISSION
At the Holy Father’s invitation, as we grapple with the urgency of the environmental task before us, we hear a specific call to mission. Each of us has a personal mission, of course, by virtue of our baptism, which is when we first hear that call. Next month’s Intention takes us directly to that missionary call, as does the special Month of Mission. The intention for October is for ‘A Missionary “Spring” in the Church: That the breath of the Holy Spirit engender a new missionary “spring” in the Church’. Pope Francis declared, early in his pontificate, in his letter Evangelii Gaudium, that ‘in virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples … Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.’
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Our missionary discipleship can take many forms, from a simple act of kindness to a big involvement in a campaign for justice, such as is called forth by the environmental emergency. The prayer and action of the Missionary Month, and the Pope’s Intention for October, call us all to renew our missionary commitment. For the four weeks of October 2019, the Holy Father has approved four themes:
- A personal encounter with Jesus Christ living in his Church
- The witness of missionary saints and martyrs
- Missionary charity: a commitment to support the Church’s missionary activity especially in supporting poor communities
- Biblical, catechetical, spiritual and theological formation for mission
In these ways, one for each week, the Holy Father invites us to renew and reawaken our commitment to mission. More details will start to appear throughout September on various websites and publications about how to embrace this Mission Month. Start now, in preparation!
IT ALL STARTS WITH PRAYER
Without prayer we may lose motivation or our charity risks being empty activism. Pray with the Pope in September about the environmental threat to our planet and our future, and already you’re preparing for October’s Mission Month. Ponder your and your family’s use of the earth’s resources. Ask, for example, food suppliers to use more sustainable packaging. But consider this final thought from Mary Colwell about the ocean: ‘This great mass of water also brings us life.’ In this month of prayer for the oceans let us be still and open ourselves to their mystery, and pray that all of us, politicians, scientists, citizens, and industry treat this realm of wonder with respect.