The Extinction Crisis, Transubstantiation and Praying for a Miracle

Thomas Moritz


Since about 20 years, I have been deeply concerned with the crisis of our civilization in its multiple aspects. Over time I have come to see this crisis as a comprehensive web of interacting problems, encompassing all aspects of our life, all levels from the planetary level with the climate crisis and the ongoing biological mass extinction, to the growth addiction of a debt-laden financial system and growing social injustice, down to the erosion of the family, the tragedy of mass abortion, psychological health issues and the deconstruction of human nature itself (as put forward, for example, by the philosophical movement known as “transhumanism”). And, not to forget, the crisis of the Church.

A “culture of death”i devours life at every level through a system of destruction that Pope Francis calls the “techno-economic paradigm” in his encyclical Laudato si’. Contributing to stopping this destruction was and is the top priority in my life, and for many years I spent a lot of time and energy for this end. I tried many different things, I did projects and got involved in activism. My effort mostly aimed at some kind of transformation and was focused on ideas such as permaculture, ecovillages and the transition town movement. A few months ago however, I stopped nearly all of this and put all my effort into prayer that takes me to the streets of my region three times a week. In this article, I present the ideas that brought me to this decision, and since then have flown out of the prayer.

I still find the kind of initiatives I participated in precious, as well as many other efforts, in order to overcome the dominant “culture of death”, to unfold a “culture of life” and to build an ecological civilization, based on integral ecology. However, I no longer believe that transformation can avert a catastrophe. I guess it is just too late (and probably altogether beyond mere human capabilities, regardless of the available time).


An impossible task

A highly telling example illustrating our predicament is this diagram from the 2018 UNEP “Emissions Gap Report”:ii

Plus 1.5°C of global warming – the steeper one of the two curves – means less suffering and destruction than 2 degrees. I don’t see legitimacy in opting for the “easier” target of 2 degrees, because who are we to accept avoidable suffering? Plus 1.5°C also means much better chances to avoid critical tipping points towards self-enforcing feedback loops leading to a “hothouse Earth” (which would be the end of human civilization).

Alarmingly, the reduction path for the 1.5°C target looks dauntingly steep. And its 66% probability seems to be irresponsibly risky – riskier than Russian roulette. However, a higher probability of not exceeding the target would need even more radical reduction. How could this be done?

The obvious solution is to degrow the economy of the richeriii parts of the world population, because a very large part of those economical activities is not about essential needs. The cessation of those activities would immediately end a big part of emissions, and thus be quite a decisive change.

But how could this reduction be accomplished in time, and without an uncontrolled and total collapse of civilization, as it runs counter the growth dependent financial system? So the task at hand is actually: radical change, globally, against societal inertia and vested interests, without too much chaos, and all of this within a very few years, practically instantaneously. I came to the sobering conclusion that this task – necessary to avert a catastrophe – is very probably beyond human capabilities as seen from a modern, secularized mindset.

A miracle

It would take something completely out of the view of this mindset – it would take a true miracle. We are accustomed to say “it would be a miracle” when we want to express that something just won’t happen. But I do believe in miracles, so I take this constellation seriously, and ask, if it takes a miracle – what would this be, then?

The miracle, as I see it, is transubstantiation, the substantialiv change of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ – and through this, the substantial change of civilization as a whole, a change of its very being. This miracle uses what is already there, so nothing new has to be made – which would take time, while we have no time. This miracle is already in the world and takes place at every Holy Mass instantaneously, when – according to St. Thomas Aquinas – the priest speaks, in persona Christi, the last syllable of the words HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM.

As matter is necessary for Holy Mass, transubstantiation follows the paths that fruits of the Earth and of human labour take to the altar, radiating outwards. Everything touched by it changes from being an object or commodity to being personal – substantially becoming the body of Christ himself. Our task is to let ourselves be touched by the sacrament, and let ourselves become what we eat. The task is to expose ourselves to the grace that flows through the Eucharist and nourishes the organism which is the Church as the mystical body of Christ, cleanses it of sin, and heals it. The task is to allow the sacramental order to do its full work of grace on us, without us obstructing but serving as virtuously as we can.

With the words “Ite, missa est” we are sent into the world to order the temporal issues towards the spiritual, towards God. We are sent to spread Eucharistic reality, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of peace and justice. People consequently living the faith, living the sacramental order, grow the capability to do just this. Might it be in the small and hidden ways of a single person with very few resources, might it be a few families helping each other, or huge networks of communities, creating a sacramental culture and fulfilling Catholic social teaching on a civilizational level.

But obviously we are not touched by the Eucharist to a degree necessary to avert a catastrophe. Obviously, the Eucharist is de facto not “font and summit of the life of the Church”v in the sense of including the economic life of the whole mystical body of Christ – clergy, religious, laity. We see the medieval cathedrals as awe-inspiring witnesses of the transubstantiation of the world. Yet the world seems to have become resistant to being transubstantiated. But if consecration is not credible anymore, how is it possible to keep the Catholic faith?vi 

For me, herein lies a valuable hint, that the crisis of the Church and the ecological crisis are deeply interconnected – as well as the solution to both. From the age of cathedrals it took many centuries until we arrived at a situation where it has become very hard to perceive and really experience the Eucharistic reality, and generally: anything outside of the nearly perfect isolation and assimilation of technocratic capitalism. Nearly everything around (and within) us tells us, that transubstantiation, especially of the world, is a foolish idea.

I guess we often also don’t want to see and hear Eucharistic reality, sensing the radical change coming with this and so we block it, in order to keep functioning in our everyday life. We are contumacious. Through my prayer I have come to realize that most of the time I am in some state of obdurateness, and I sometimes feel a nearly impenetrable wall. I just pray the Rosary and go to Mass, but no realization – whether of Christ, or of the catastrophe and the suffering I know is going on. So, we don’t get in touch with Eucharistic reality, the real presence, and end up in spiritual starvation. The crisis of the Church and the extinction crisis come together.

The spirituality of the extinction crisis

However, the extinction crisis also profoundly changes the situation. Not only does it refute the utopian tales of the dominant techno-capitalist culture very obviously (albeit in the process dystopian tales try to menace us more and more into amenability). There is also a distinct spirituality in the spiritual and temporal horror that comes with this crisis. This horror can extinguish our faith and silence us. But it can also lead to very strong spiritual experience.

Maybe this is the main point of how we can participate in the miracle I pray for, together with living the sacraments and the teaching of the Church, together with cultivating virtue: We can muster our courage, or at least pray for courage to confront the crisis and seek the truth of it – not only as rational knowledge, but also on a deep emotional, bodily level. We can bring ourselves into situations, where we can deeply feel the crisis, compassionately connect with the suffering and also face our own existential fears: what will become of me, of the people dearest to me, what will become of all that is dear to me? We can expose ourselves to situations, that have the potential to make us really, really depressed, because “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”.vii I guess, it is wise to go into such situations praying.

Here I list a few ideas for exercises, the possibilities are virtually limitless. For sure, this is dangerous ground, but now everything is dangerous and you can always go from easy to hard:

 – On a hot summer day, walk through parking space deserts in shopping landscapes, walk along big streets with a lot of traffic. Sneak into food waste containers of supermarkets and try to imagine what had to happen in order to produce all this food, and to transport it to this place, only to be thrown away. Observe the steel, glass and concrete palaces of the financial sector, or some big black uber-SUVs, and try to feel what message they exude and what they really want to tell you.

 – Read sobering scientific reports like the study “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” also known as “Hothouse Earth”,viii the IPBES report about the looming threat of one million species going extinct,ix or the study “Deep adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy”x by Jem Bendell. Watch scientifically sound documentaries or lectures that let you “abandon all hope” – meaning the hope, the world can give. Have a rosary, a cross, an icon, or a miraculous medal with you.

 – Take part in ecological religious exercises, where you seek the truth of the situation and pray in community.xi

 – Take a picture or an item that expresses the extinction crisis for you, go to a church and include it in your contemplation. Ask the Virgin Mary what she thinks about this, and what she urges you to do.

 – Take part in demonstrations like “Fridays for Future”. Maybe you don’t especially like the style, maybe you don’t like Greta Thunberg, or you don’t share some of the opinions expressed there. But that is not the point. The point is: try to perceive what is going on there, also on an emotional and spiritual level. Try to compassionately perceive what your neighbour needs. On a more intense level, the same applies to civil disobedience actions, such as “Extinction Rebellion”xii or “Ende Gelände”.xiii

This would be an act of charity: in order to do something really charitable, first we have to hear the cry of the suffering with our heart. And also it would be an act of penance: the destruction of our world is a fruit of sin, and it produces sin. By seeking the truth, we explore our conscience. To some degree, we are involved in this destruction with our individual sin that we have to repent and confess. Usually, according to the wisdom of our civilization, we wouldn’t do this, and we are often recommended to do otherwise precisely in order to not become depressed.

However, let’s remember that Jesus opens up His heart to the suffering, without a professional distance. When he raised the widow’s son at Nain, “his heart went out to the widow”,xiv and he touched the bier. When he raised Lazarus, he wept.xv And when he was at Gethsemane, he didn’t run away or deny his existential fear.

Instead he was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”xvi and endured it, praying. He, who didn’t sin, took all the sin unto Himself. And He calls us to take our cross, and to follow Him.

Under secular circumstances, we would fall into a deep black hole of “eco-depression” and collapse, if we really opened up our hearts to the unfolding catastrophe. But when we bring it before God, unite our eco-depression with the passion of Christ, the stream of grace flowing from His wounds collapses our individualism not into nothingness, but Christ becomes our king, and His Holy Spirit enables us to repent.

I suspect, that our cages of obdurateness equal what we have to deny and repress in order to keep going. The more desperate and visible the crisis becomes, the more contumacious we get, until we break. This obdurateness forms a psychic object, separating us from God, creation, our neighbour and ourselves. Transubstantiation, however, changes even this object into the body of Christ.

When we receive the grace so that the extinction crisis really touches us in a way that we somehow connect it with God, we cry to God from a depth of our soul that we could hardly reach otherwise, under “normal” circumstances. Then we shall know that He is the LORD, when he has gotten glory over us.xvii He is the LORD, the Holy One of Israel,xviii “who has taken us and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, out of the prison-house.”xixGod answers our cry with His sanctifying grace, calling people to sainthood. And the presence of saintly persons promotes sanctifying dynamics in others, thus bringing about a re-membering, a re-formation. Facing horror could thus activate the Church, which is now more or less in a “standby mode”, through some kind of spiritual chain reaction that just pierces and obliterates our prisons of obdurateness. With such a massive conversion event, a decisively Trinitarian, Eucharistic network, cooperating with all those of good will, would form.

Temporal effects

What would this effectuate in temporal ways? It would wipe away the isolated, commodified individualism of the “homo oecomicus” from us and we would be re-membered as parts of the body. Affected by transubstantiation, not only humans decommodify, also the fruits of the Earth and of human labour, the whole of creation, would cease being commodities for profit and remain as pure “accidents”, in some way substantially being Body of Christ.

Wouldn’t this reorder the temporal capabilities of people who let themselves be drawn into this dynamic, radically away from technocratic capitalism and towards Christ? Instead of an anti-capitalist revolution, or rebellion, there would just be a discontinuation and the capability to deal peace and justice. So I do not ask you, the reader, to bring down technocratic capitalism. I ask God. And if God answers, it will not be “us, the people”, it will be Christ acting through His mystical body in the way of Jeremiah 1:10, appointed “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

In the same integral movement this miracle would perform – as far as I can perceive it now – three things:

 – It would end unnecessary economic activities. Because if the substance of those activities and all the activities they consist of and rest upon changes into the body of Christ, all of their internal contradictions – now held together by force – would fall apart, relaxed by the “Peace of the Lord”. Thus the existing financial system would end, which is the lifeblood of our economy, based on growth and debt. A big part of the human ecological footprint would simply disappear.

 – At the same time necessary economic activities would be continued roughly in today’s ways just without the financial system, out of love, out of caritas. The worldwide Eucharistic network of the Catholic Church could contribute just so much strength as – together with others of “good will” – to uphold enough global order to sustain the existential services of the industrial civilisation as long as necessary for a truly ecological civilization to emerge.

 – Through the Eucharist the transformative process that the world is takes a different course: On the one hand all “fruits of the Earth” and human labour freed by the discontinuation of unnecessary economical activities would follow the peace of the Lord, learning His ways and paths, and grow an ecological civilization. On the other hand, over time also the continued industrial processes would transform and the two would eventually merge. There would be no hurry as this process could in some aspects take years, in others decades, or even centuries.

Basically this would be a peaceful collapse of the current mode of civilisation without a humanitarian and ecological catastrophe. If this sounds extreme, it should be kept in mind that a continuation of this current mode of civilisation for much longer seems to be very improbable anyway. With what I describe in this article, “business as usual” would just go down earlier (preventing a lot of destruction), and it wouldn’t cascade down to the very bottom as it would “by default”. At the same time, there is the perspective of something very attractive: Such a transubstantiated civilisation could organize itself in a way that billions of people participate in the great work of regenerating damaged and destroyed ecosystems, drawing down excess carbon from the atmosphere through soil and vegetation within a few decades, saving countless species from extinction, generating living space, livelihood and true wealth for all. It is the perspective to “restore all things in Christ” (St. Pius X).

This would be a truly ecological, sacramental civilization in harmony with the cosmos, because it follows Christ through whom the cosmos is created. The “metabolism” of the Church, the mystical body of Christ, would be truly an economy that has the Eucharist as its font and summit. It doesn’t need to be built, it is already, or still, here. It is the Lord’s, and it can be renewed by the Lord through the Holy Spirit instantaneously – by transubstantiation.

And as a final thought: maybe all of this could happen very soon, just in time before it is too late. Because maybe everything necessary for this fundamental change is already here, and there is nothing to wait for anymore:

 – There is all the stuff produced by our civilization, and all the skills and talents we have, and this is the material to build an ecological civilization from by looking at it and using it creatively according to Eucharistic “ways and paths”.

 – There is the psychosocial disposition of obdurateness, but also of despair, resignation, grief, longing and rage. All of this is like tinder waiting for the spark of Pentecostal fire.

 – And there of course is the Eucharist, and everything that grew out of it and of the other sacraments, and of the Church’s teaching. This is the key to the possibility of such a miraculous salvation, in contrast to civilizations that fell in the past.

Maybe it is not necessary anymore to preserve the old in order to have a safe shell for the new to sprout, and now its time to end has arrived – and our time to lay the whole of our civilization as our offering on the altar and to pray to God and call the Holy Spirit down unto it: “Come, O almighty and eternal God, the sanctifier, and bless this sacrifice, prepared of the glory of thy holy name.”

Practical conclusion: prayer for climate

This grand vision of a miracle, vastly simplified, is what I have perceived is asked of me. It is something very simple, something everybody can do: praying for a miracle. That was a deeply relaxing insight for me, but what does this mean for me in practical terms? I have very limited resources and capacities, therefore I have to carefully decide how I put them to use. Since I started praying in public in April, a pattern of an integrated action, consisting of two complementary dimensions, has emerged:

First, there is the prayer action itself, aimed at piercing obdurateness. I looked for the smallest possible form that nonetheless contains everything necessary. I identified praying the Rosary in public. Silently, with a sign reading “Prayer for the Climate”, and in smaller letters: “prayer for salvation from climate catastrophe and planetary ecosystem collapse, for conversion and remission”. When people approach me, I interrupt my prayer, listen and talk to them. I do this about three times a week. On Fridays at 4 p.m. CET, while a small prayer network joins in.

There are some aspects that I see in this action:

 – I can do it alone, without much organization and resources, but the action can easily scale up if more people join in. It could tap into the rich treasure of Catholic piety forms, e.g. supplicatory procession with supplicatory mass.

 – It is public, therefore it is also political and points at ordering the temporal issues – but ordering them towards the spiritual, because it is first and foremost prayer. So as the prayer is public, it brings together the spiritual and the temporal.

 – With the prayer network, the action has the aspects of secrecy and of public witness at the same time. It is also at the same time genuinely Catholic and open for cooperation with people of good will from every denomination, faith and spiritual school.

 – The Rosary points towards the sacramental order, of which it is a fruit.

 – It is not individualistic, and thus an antidote to the rampant hyper-individualism that is at the centre of the problem. And its strong structure provides what is necessary, if we have to substitute for today’s sources of order.

 – Especially with the Fatima prayer, the Rosary also includes penance.

 – Before I start, I often visit a church and pray the Litany of the Saints in order to connect with the whole Church.

The other dimension, which for me is of no lesser importance, is focused on my family: As I have put virtually all of my activist vigor into the prayer action, a lot of attention and energy has been freed up that I had used to spend on computer work laden projects before. Now this attention and energy promotes the growth of the sacramental order and virtue and the realization of Catholic social teaching in the very small society of my wife, our little son and me, and from there also beyond.

The two dimensions – the public prayer action and its invigorating effect on our family and our networks – interact and hopefully generate a dynamics that will widen the possibilities of this initiative.

May God be with us.

i       John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 39.

ii     UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2018, p. XVIII

iii    See diagram p. 4

iv    While its “accidents”, or “species”, its appearance remains unchanged.

v     Second Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), 10

vi    Thomas Ruster, Wandlung, ein Traktat über Eucharistie und Ökonomie (2009), 9

vii   Psalm 51:17


ix ,


xi    For example the “Laudato Si retreat” developed by the “Global Catholic Climate Movement”



xiv  Luke 7:13

xv   John 11:35

xvi  Matt 26:38

xvii  See Exod 14:18

xviii  See Isa 43:15

xix  Josh 24:17

xx   This applies to conventional industrial goods, infrastructures and human capital, as well as to the fruits of the still relatively small alternative initiatives aimed at transformation, like the permaculture movement.

xxi  In contrast even to the Western Roman Empire, which became Christian only during its final centuries, while the foundation of our civilization is Christian.

xxii Prayer “Veni, sanctificator omnipotens æterne Deus: et bene + dic hoc sacrificium, tuo sancto nomini præparatum” from the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.

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