The Common Good

Reflections on the Gulf Oil Spill and a Prayer for Lost Lives

Last year, I was deeply troubled by the Gulf Oil Spill, having been born and raised on the Florida Gulf Coast. I was especially saddened that 11 people lost their lives from the explosion of Deepwater Horizon. Their families and loved ones will carry their loss for the rest of their lives. What is most tragic is that the loss of human life and the negative impact on the Gulf ecology appears to be the result of sheer negligence and mismanagement on the part of BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and federal industry regulators. There is mounting evidence that the companies involved put short-term profits over the safety and lives of workers and of the ecosystem.

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The worst thing that we can do is not learn from this experience; we must learn that there is an interconnected relationship between humanity and the natural environment. As Pope Benedict XVI explains, "The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa."

The brutality we show towards one another is reflected in our brutality against the natural environment as we destroy forests, level mountaintops, drain estuaries, and erase barrier sand reefs in our quest for modern progress. In the short-sightedness of our "buy now, pay later" culture, we exchange moderation and sustainability for luxury, extravagance, and excess, while we spend money that we do not have and increase our personal debt. This consumption mindset translates into the use and hoarding of the world's natural resources without regard for our own future, let alone the needs of future generations. Our culture values ease of use and disposability. For example, we throw away an estimated 60 million plastic water bottles each day.

St. Francis demonstrated charity and concern for both humans and creatures. He called all creatures by the name of brother and sister and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to all creation: people, animals, and plants. This is a virtue that St. Francis came to develop over time. After all, metanoia, the conversion of heart, is an ongoing, lifelong process. The fruits of St. Francis' conversion of heart and mind are manifested in his actions.

The one year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster fell yesterday, on the Wednesday of Holy Week. I find the opening verses from the day's first reading very appropriate: "The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back" (Isaiah 50:4-5).

As we end our Lenten journey, let us be mindful of our transgressions against our brothers and sisters, both human and creature. As we remember the Passion of our Lord, let us commit ourselves to the ongoing conversion of our hearts and minds. And as we enter into the Easter Season, may we be renewed in the power of Jesus' resurrection as we work to cure the wounded, to bind up the broken, and to recall the erring.

I would like to close my reflection with a prayer for the eleven workers who died on the Deepwater Horizon, April 20, 2010, and for the consolation of their families and loved ones:

Almighty and Good God, our faith in the resurrection of Jesus comforts us as we mourn the death of Jason Anderson, Aaron Dale Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Gordon Jones, Roy Wyatt Kemp, Karl Dale Kleppinger, Jr., Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, Shane Roshto, and Adam Weise. May this passage be a reminder to us of our own mortality. Let it be a source of hope for us as we look forward to the day when we will be united with you and all your holy ones in the joy of eternal life. We ask this through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Brother Jeffrey Wilson is a Friar of the Franciscans Third Order Regular (TOR), Province of the Immaculate Conception. He is a volunteer with the Franciscan Action Network (FAN). He is currently studying theology at the Catholic University of America for priestly ordination. The prayer above is taken from the Common for the Dead in Franciscan Morning and Evening Praise: 1276.

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