By Leah Daly
Sometimes my adult faith journey gets stuck in a rut of routine and apathy. During these times, I find myself simply going through the motions of faith, work, and home life. Intentionality and genuine engagement slip away when apathy seeps in.
The antidote for apathy and disengagement, for me, comes through my work with high school students. Teenagers are waking up to the world in a way that is engaging and life-giving. Their emerging insight into their place in this world and their passions for diverse issues can be a real wake-up call. It reminds me to begin again as a novice to ecological and social justice movements. Each new semester and each new group of young adults in my faith-based educational community invites me again and deeper into the call to care for the common good and our common home. Working with high school students has given me renewed passion for ecological and social justice.
As Chaplaincy Leader at Immaculata High School last year, I engaged with my students and staff in the Give it up for the Earth! campaign last Lent. The focus on ecological justice from a faith perspective was an ideal way to engage youth in the disciplines of the Lenten season. They were able to grow into a more thoughtful and mature approach to fasting during the Lenten season of repentance and renewal. They were also able to deepen their awareness of and commitment to ecological justice by transforming their Lenten fasting into a compassionate response to the consequences of climate change on the earth and on vulnerable populations.
We kicked off the campaign on Ash Wednesday by making it part of our classroom prayer service. Students and staff were challenged to “give it up for the earth,” to give something up for Lent that put their care for God’s Creation into concrete action. The challenge in presenting the campaign to youth is that they don’t have as much control over their lifestyle choices as adults. We needed to empower them to find the ways that they can make positive environmental choices. We took inspiration from Pope Francis when he said, “everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.”
Students can choose how they spend their fast food dollars and how they dispose of their garbage while in public. They do have some control over how they get around town, and they can offer to help out at home with groceries and meal preparation. Here are the suggestions we offered on Ash Wednesday:
- disposable cups, straws, bottles, cans, shopping bags
- meat one day a week
- long, hot showers
- walking or cycling
- repairing rather than replacing
- recycling or composting
- eating local fruit and veggies
For each week of Lent, we presented both an easy and a difficult challenge. These challenges got everyone thinking about their lunches, coffees, shopping, and travel habits. One weekly challenge was to commit to a “buy nothing” day. Student were encouraged to get their entire household on board. The challenge also included signing the postcard to our MP and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna. Her constituency office is just across the canal from Immaculata. It felt like an easy connection to let her know what kinds of commitments we were making as individuals and what we were asking her to do as an elected leader and cabinet member.
The campaign truly allowed us, as a school faith community, to engage in the spiritual discipline of fasting in a meaningful and life-giving way. The Give it up for the Earth! initiative provided more than an opportunity for putting political pressure on the government. It helped me to shape our journey through Lent. Our prayer, fasting, and giving was all connected to our care for God’s Creation.
Leah Daly has been engaging young people in faith-based social justice education and activism as a Chaplaincy Leader with the Ottawa Catholic School Board since 2002 and is currently working at St. Mother Teresa High School.