By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF
Born prematurely, my aunt Sister Marie Paul, decided that, should I survive, I would join her in the convent. I grew up with that understanding. Of the three of us girls in my family, guess who got the nun doll as a First Communion present?
But one of the other deciding factors happened when I was in 6th grade. Sister Mary Ann travelled to Minnesota and talked to our class about vocations. I have no idea what she said, but the slides she showed us – that was another story. I saw those pine trees and knew “That’s my home!” That memory remains a powerful image for me to this day.
It’s not surprising, for a number of reasons. As Sylvania Franciscans, we have a powerful attachment to our motherhouse grounds, grown out of the beautiful architecture, the lovely gardens, shrines and artwork and the pervading sense of peace that envelops us. The deep sense of sacred space we find here is an extension of the belief of the sacredness of creation, the goodness and beauty of each element of the world around us. Every created thing is a reflection of God; we are all united in the goodness of God found within.
That idea is profoundly presented in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. This past May, the Pope invited the Church, and the whole world, to a more focused and intense response to the plight of our Sister Mother Earth, as he put forth his Laudato Si Action Platform (LSAP).
The LSAP is an invitation to seven areas of the church, in reality encompassing every person and organization within the church and “all men and women of good will.” The goals of the LSAP align themselves with the UN Sustainable Development goals, with the addition of ecological spirituality. The action plan doesn’t require any specific action; instead, it asks us to assess our present actions and expand on them in ways that fit our present reality. It suggests taking a creative approach, simple, inspiring and flexible, one that can move us to systemic change.
The work of Tree Toledo is a perfect example of this effort. The goal of this volunteer group is simple: to plant a tree for each person in Toledo. They’ve engaged numerous volunteers and allies in their efforts. Their approach to the environmental crisis is simple: if you can only do one thing to help the planet, plant a tree. On the other side of the world, Wangari Maathi took a similar approach; she started a women’s movement to reforest her native Kenya. Her small steps eventually had a great impact on Africa and earned her the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for women’s rights and conservation.
What can we do, individually and collectively? What small actions are we taking, that we can expand and invite others to join us? Where are our hearts leading us? If, indeed, the whole Earth pines for the fullness of creation, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:22, can we listen for the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor and respond?