The connection may not be obvious, but this Sunday’s readings call me to reflect on the recent climate change rallies and strikes.
For one thing, the warning from Amos sounds a lot like the young people rallying around the environment: Woe to the complacent!
And to that I say: Amen. Nothing in our faith makes room for complacency; God repeatedly calls us to deeper compassion and more action. I wholeheartedly believe this, and yet I regularly lose heart and move into complacency and need to be called to more. I need Greta Thunberg and the other young activists to be the voice of Amos in our day, crying out: Do not be complacent! Act now! Our planet and all of us who live on it are in great need! As people of faith, we respond to this prophetic call with prayer and action.
In the Gospel, we see what complacency looks like. We meet the rich guy who lives his life intentionally ignorant of the poor person right at his door – until it’s too late. It’s interesting that the poor person, Lazarus, is named and the rich guy is not. Am I meant to see myself in him? I hope not. Anyway, they both die, and Lazarus gets a peaceful afterlife while the rich guy lives in misery. He wants to change his situation, but it’s too late. He wants to at least warn his brothers, but it’s too late for that too.
This story may seem harsh, but here’s the thing – too late is too late and can’t be changed, and we can’t impart our life experiences onto someone else. We may want to prevent another person from learning the painful lessons we have, but we each have to live our lives, painful lessons and all. Our loved ones have to learn through their own struggles.
In the same way, older people, including Catholic Sisters, have been doing climate advocacy for years. Although their wisdom and stories are of great value and should be shared, they can’t impose their life experiences onto the youth doing this work now. The young advocates are forging their own way, and they have a deeper urgency than we did in the past. They need to be heard, and we all need to respond now or risk being the rich guy in the Gospel who doesn’t want to act until it’s too late.
We’re a global community calling each other to advocacy, and no one of us can do this on our own. The climate crisis is so immense that we really do need all hands on deck, but not only that. We need to be in this together, across generations, which is something I realized at the climate rally in Cincinnati. We had a good turnout, and the crowd was made up of mostly teenagers and college students and elderly people, with just a few of us in the middle. I noticed that the speakers at the rally were almost exclusively young people, and the older people listened and cheered and chanted with them. I was touched by this dynamic. The younger people gave voice, but we were with them. While we stood shoulder to shoulder in the sweltering September sun (the extra hot weather evidence of the need to stop climate change), I thought about how important it is to show up for each other, to show up with each other. At a rally, we use our voices and our very presence to make a statement. The more of us standing together the better, and the more we stand together, the better our community. This was a beautiful witness of community at its best – diverse but connected, intergenerational, supportive. It was many different voices speaking as one voice.
Older people need the young to dispel complacency with their raw passion and energy, and the young need the tempered passion, wisdom, and support of older people. God calls each of us to act for the sake of the kingdom of God, and when our action moves us together, well, it’s a glimmer of what the kingdom of God looks like.
By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP
Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, dancing — and rallies!