Lucy’s lament, Greta’s anger and hopeful action

It was a bright June day when I heard a sister lament. The sister: she is named for light; we call her Lucy. At a community meeting, she stood at a podium and spoke into a microphone, her voice full of passion and frustration. She gave a State of the Union speech of sorts, yet in this case, the Union was the planet Earth.

As her exasperated voice vibrated through the room, images of pollution and charts of species decline glowed on bright screens. Her tone was intense, strong. Young and old, at least seven dozen Franciscan Sisters tried to hear the truth; we tried to love our sister, even though her message was tough to hear. Many of us squirmed uncomfortably as she, an ecologist and farmer, admitted that the picture of this planet is grim.

“I am finding it really hard to love homo sapiens right now!” she admitted while acknowledging that she is not free from playing a part in the environmental crisis either. “Earth would be better off without us. It could spit us off and have a better chance of surviving.”

I was reminded of Sister Lucy’s lament this week as I watched Greta Thunberg’s speech given to the United Nations. You can’t skip this video. Please watch it right now. Even if you’ve already watched it, watch it again.

Like Sister Lucy, Greta’s tone is appropriately intense and angry, for the State of the Earth is serious. “You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.”

Now, I can’t stop thinking about how to act, how to not fail children like Greta (she’s 16 years old!), how to not fail the Christian call to steward the gifts of creation. To not change our ways and care for the most vulnerable is evil, as she says. I feel challenged and shamed, in the best of ways. I feel compelled to truly repent and to change. To admit my sorrow and to grow.

It is time for repentance and conversion. All of humanity, rich and poor, privileged and marginalized, powerful and weak — we all must act if we want to save ourselves. We must change our hearts, our minds, our ways of living. We must change our behaviors and attitudes.

No matter what type of change we’re talking about, all change starts with a shift in perspective. It’s time for us to see that we’re not here to have dominion over any other life. Rather, our health and survival as a species are completely dependent on the health and survival of other species, on every ecosystem. We are completely interdependent on other life forms.

When Sister Lucy spoke to my community in June, I learned a new way to understand this. We are called to be ecocentric instead of egocentric. Our species is one among many. As other species become endangered and extinct, so could we. As the planet becomes healthy and balanced again, so will we.


We are not above any other species. Rather, we are part of the ecosystems and are totally dependent on other species. And the earth is suffering, and it’s very serious. I’ll save you the litany of horrors. (But you can read this article to learn the latest.)

The actions we take from here on out must be based on these facts. We must act with wild hope and faith that every person matters, that all of our actions have significance. We must trust that small acts contribute to the big picture. What is needed now are individual lifestyle changes and systemic changes. We must truly act locally and unite globally to change the political and economic systems that are oppressing our planet.


There are a lot of options, really. 101 things you can do to fight climate change are listed here. Here are a few that I’ve decided on.

Eat differently. For some, like myself, that’s becoming vegetarian. For others, it’s eating less meat, or wasting less overall. Others opt to grow one’s own food or buy from local farmers. All of us must do something, though. “We need a radical transformation — not incremental shifts — towards a global land-use and food system that serves our climate needs,” Ruth Richardson in Toronto, Canada, the executive director at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, has declared. Clearly, it is essential we understand how global agriculture truly works and eat in ways that are more sustainable.

Travel less. This is the hard one for me because I tend to live a fairly itinerant Franciscan life. Yet, every time I calculate my carbon footprint, it is apparent to me that if I stop using planes and cars then I’d drastically reduce the harm I inflict on other species.

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

Stop purchasing bottled water and soft drinks. I like flavored and carbonated waters as much as the next person. But, 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture water bottles every year. And, as it becomes more apparent that plastic recycling is mostly a myth, I am especially challenged to stop using all plastic. From now on, I will go nowhere without my refillable water bottle. It’s one simple thing I can do.

Join climate advocacy organizations, such as Oxfam, Greenpeace, or Catholic Climate Covenant.  These organizations need your financial support and your participation. Join them in the advocacy events they organize in order to act for systemic change and help protect the planet and the poor. You can easily write your U.S. senator about supporting the International Climate Accountability Act (S.1743) here.

No matter how we respond to the prophetic laments of people like Sister Lucy and Greta Thunberg, let us act with love.

Our life depends upon it.

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love, and beauty.
Praise be to you!
Amen.    (Pope Francis, Laudato Sí)

For the Love of Earth

Today is the World Day of Prayer for Creation!

This is an ecumenical and global day of prayer.  World-wide, Christians are united in prayer for the healing of this sacred home and our Sister, Mother Earth. Out of love for her, we pray in hope and thanksgiving.

Here in La Crosse, Wisconsin we are keeping vigil round the clock in our perpetual adoration chapel.

“Mary of the Angels and the moon” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Here is one of the particular prayers we are praying:

A Christian prayer in union with creation
By Pope Francis, Laudato Si

Father, we praise you with all your creatures. 
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!

Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.

Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!

Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts 
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made. 
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.

Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak, 
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.

O Lord, seize us with your power and light, 
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!

We pray in joy and wonder.

“Emily in awe” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Silence” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Life in dry places” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

We pray in thanksgiving and praise of the beauty that God has made throughout the universe

“Mississippi River Clear” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Krka National Park, Croatia” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Found in Friendship Garden, La Crosse” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Iowan neighbors” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Exaltation” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Beach at Night, Florida” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

We pray that we can be better stewards of the gifts that God has given us.

“Earth’s bounty at a market in Split” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Swamp in Minnesota” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Unnatural nest” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Climate Change Extreme” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“The view from Mt. Hosmer, Lansing, Iowa” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

We pray that we will have the graces and courage to be in right relationship with all of creation.

May God help us all to integrate the important and challenging teachings contained within Laudato Si into our daily lives.


“Beautiful Baltic Sea” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

The point of Wanda

The last few nights I have been reading and re-reading Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si (Praise be to you, my Lord) on care for our common home. As I do, I keep returning to thoughts of my dog, Wanda.Wanda1

Wanda is not a very friendly or personable dog not a very useful dog. Wanda is a tired old hound dog who spends 23 hours of her day sleeping, napping, or trying to nap or sleep.

She doesn’t play fetch, tug of war, or any other game I’m familiar with dogs enjoying. She doesn’t chase cats or squirrels and she only very occasionally enjoys the presence of other dogs. When I come home, she might come and greet me by sniffing me briefly before returning to her puppy pad—if she feels like it. Many days she just lifts her head, looks at me as if to say “Oh, hey,” and then lowers it again. If it were not me—but rather a stranger or burglar—I’m pretty sure her reaction would be the same.

She has a history of abuse which has, along with her advanced age, left her with a troubled tummy. She doesn’t like to eat most food and is very picky about her treats. She will only deign to eat even her very most favorite meals (that involves boiling chicken, dicing it into tiny pieces, then mixing it into a blend of wet dog food and either kibble or rice) about half the time. Many a morning I have, tired and bleary-eyed and waiting for coffee to kick in, laboriously mushed her special blend together only to have her smell it once and then walk away without taking a bite.

Her tummy troubles also lead her to get sick easily and explosively. Twice in the year she’s slept under our roof I have come home to find she has vomited (or emitted similarly liquid excretions from her rear end) her way across the house. One of these episodes ended with a late-night carpet shampooer rental.


And every now and then when I look upon Wanda and see all the trouble she causes, all the effort she costs me, and couple those thoughts with a lack of sleep or patience, I find myself thinking “What’s the point of this good for nothing dog?”

When I ask that question, I tend to get an answer. I feel it rather than think or hear it. But as I read Francis’ encyclical this week, I heard the words that could give voice to the feeling.

In Laudato Si’, Francis reminds me that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.”

Throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis warns us of how incredibly, dangerously anthropocentric we can be. We think that we humans are the measure of all things and that all things—and all beings—were made for us and are to be used by us. If something or someone does not immediately bring us utility or happiness, then they are to be disregarded or avoided. What Francis says of humans could probably be equally applied to us as individuals as well: we think we are the center of the world and if a thing or being does not serve our ends—if it causes us frustration or discomfort or inconvenience—then it’s a problem to either solve or end.

Which brings me back to Wanda: a living being, a being which God spoke into existence who manifests something of the divine. Merely by being among the multiplicity of creation, by being fearfully and wonderfully made, Wanda gives glory to her Creator. As the encyclical states, “God has written a precious book, ‘whose letters are the created things present in the universe.'” The “contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us.”

Wanda was not created for me. Her ultimate purpose is not to give me anything. If she gives me usefulness as a watchdog or happiness as a companion then so be it; but if she does not, she has no less a place among creation. I am not the measure of her life. Wanda is alive. She is. And that’s her point. My Father is her Creator— her point and purpose are ultimately His, not mine.

Wanda did not ask to be abused, didn’t decide to grow sick and old and then, as a result, left at a shelter by an owner that got tired of taking care of her. These things happened to her because others decided she would fit into their lives as they wanted her to, or not at all.

We have a thread of dangerous utilitarianism that runs through our whole culture. If we can’t find the “point” of someone, if we can’t discern their usefulness, then we are quick to ignore them or discard them. The sick, the old, the unborn—if we don’t want them, they run the very great risk of becoming a problem to be solved in a most gruesome manner. And Pope Francis is right to warn us of it, and call us to be better.

Is there someone inconveniencing you today that you can choose to serve rather than have serve you? Who do you need to see as a being with dignity rather than just as a means to achieving your interests? Who can be the center of your world today, other than yourself?

As for me and Wanda … I’m going to go make her dinner. She may or may not eat it. But afterwards I will pray night prayer next to her, while she naps, and mediate on the point that the bishops of Japan make: “to sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope.” And I will thank God that I’m privileged to protect and tend to this creature in her golden years, as we lead each other to God. That is, after all, the whole point.