A few years ago, I heard a newscaster reporting on a scene from the Vatican, in which Pope Francis presided over the Liturgy during Ordinary Time. The newscaster, offering commentary on the event, enthusiastically shared that in the spirit of Earth Day, the Pope was sporting green vestments.
His observation was as innocent as it was inaccurate, which made it all the more humorous.
Yet, it gets to the heart of what can feel is a disjointed relationship between the faithful and our responsibility to be good stewards of creation.
Being Catholic and Caring for Creation
This month, we celebrate Earth Day, a federal holiday acknowledging the importance of caring for the planet and our role in that as human beings. As Catholics, this day offers both cause for celebration and a challenge. Why?
Since the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, the mainstream media have heralded the Church for prioritizing care for creation, and this is well-deserved.
What gets less press are the strides taken by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was dubbed the “green Pope” for his multiple calls for a greater stewardship among all people of faith, Catholics in particular.
Pope St. John Paul II went so far as to say:
Instead of carrying out his role as co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him. (Centesimus Annus 37)
Another voice that added to the conversation was Pope Paul VI in 1967 when he wrote Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples). In fact, he encouraged us to be men and women with a responsible vision for development of the world in tandem with God’s instructions for Adam and Eve in Genesis. This provides the foundation of “Care for Creation” as one of the seven tenets of Catholic Social Teaching.
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Creation + Care for the Vulnerable
As we can see in both Scripture and Tradition, the Church has a rich history of connecting care for creation with care for the vulnerable, God’s anawim. When air, land, or water, are contaminated by irresponsible use, those on the margins are the first to experience the consequences. Because of our responsibility to Love God and our neighbor as ourselves, we are not exempt from the challenging call to be part of the solution rather than the problem.
In addition to the Popes and Bishops who have been speaking to the subject for decades, there are contemporary voices like Dan Misleh and those at the Catholic Climate Covenant who speak meaningfully about this invitation. Sr. Dorothy Stang, whose cause for canonization is underway, was martyred in the Amazon for her solidarity with peasant farmers getting in the way of development of highly valuable land and resources.
I truly believe this place of conscientiousness is worthy of celebration.
What Stewardship of Creation Looks Like
Perhaps the challenge lies in an openness to personal examination and a willingness to change our habits.
The Church’s teaching on care for creation is reflected in what Pope Francis referred to avoiding a “throwaway culture.” Stewardship is about accountability.
Practical Steps of Stewardship
What might it look like for you and I to claim stewardship as a hallmark of our life as Catholics?
- Offer God praise for the beautiful place we live.
- Shop locally or ethically for food/clothing—learn about the companies your purchases support.
- Carpool, pick up friends, neighbors, or those who don’t drive on your way to church (or anywhere).
- Shop with reusable bags.
- Pick up trash/don’t litter.
- Treat creation as the indispensable gift it was intended to be, rather than a means to profit.
- Support organizations who educate about responsible stewardship.
- As a family, parish, or workplace: recycle!
- Think of alternatives to serving food or coffee in styrofoam.
- “Live simply that others might simply live.” This pithy bit of wisdom encourages each of us to assess what it is we need and how our habits affect the lives of others (clothing/shopping, food, travel, transportation, trash, chemicals, and so on). Rather than remaining ignorant of the impact our choices have on others, living simply is an invitation to be intentional and informed in a way that doesn’t harm another for my own personal gain. Rather, it is possible that life around me might flourish if I heed this call.
Bless the Lord
The profit Daniel illustrates this beautifully:
Let the earth bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever. Mountains and hills, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. You springs, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Seas and rivers, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. You sea monsters and all water creatures, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you mortals, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. (Daniel 3: 74-82)
Daniel’s words remind us that all of creation offers praise to the Creator. Rather than a practice unaffected by our faith, would that our efforts at stewardship be animated by acknowledging creation as a gift!
The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God. -St. John of Damascus
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