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On Caring for the Earth: Living Earth Day as Catholics

earth day reflection

Happy Earth Day! Perhaps you’re wondering what this secular holiday has to do with the modern Catholic woman. A lot, in fact! The discussion about creation is not a new one, and there’s been a lot of buzz in recent years within the Church about the care and concern of our planet. If you haven’t read Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, today is the perfect day to dive in. The reality is that caring for our planet isn’t simply a secular issue or a millennial issue. As Christ followers and faithful Catholics, we are called to be diligent in caring for our planet. Here’s why.

God and Nature

Nature, in all its beauty, leads us back to the One Who created it to begin with.

Since I was young, I have always felt incredibly close to God when I’m nature. Whether it’s laying in the grass in the backyard with my kids making cloud shapes or sleeping under the stars on the edge of the Grand Canyon, I rarely feel closer to God than when I’m in His creation.

There is something so powerful about the fact that God gave our human parents—Adam and Eve—a natural world to inhabit and care for. He didn’t give them a grand palace or strong fortress. He gave them a garden. We are created with an urge to seek out nature and to meet God in the midst of His creation. Being in nature brings a peace and tranquility few other things do, especially in the hectic, ultra-connected world we live in.

To that end, Pope Saint John Paul II offered this beautiful sentiment at World Youth Day in 1990:

The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God.

 

Creation Whispers God’s Goodness

Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself. The breeze blowing through open windows on the first spring day. The crunch of vibrant leaves under your feet in the fall. The feeling of being in the woods, or listening to the sound of the rain. Watching buds burst bravely forth after a long winter. A cloudless blue sky in June. These things all whisper to us of God’s goodness and His presence.

The Catechism words it simply and well:

The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will. (CCC 341)

 

Our Call to be Stewards

In Genesis 2:15, it says: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it.”

The call to care for and steward our natural world is a Biblical call that stems from this verse in Genesis. God made all things and called it good. Everything in existence praises Him simply by existing. Therefore, we are called to treat the natural world with respect as the handiwork of God the Father.

This call is also reflected in the Ten Commandments, the seventh of which is “Thou shall not steal.” Again, the Catechism expounds on this in the following paragraph:

The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorce from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. (CCC 2415)

 

In short, we are commanded to care for nature in a way that respects not only our current generation, but also generations to come. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. (Caritas in Veritate [Charity in Truth], 2009, no. 48)

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Practical Steps to Care for the Earth

We are obligated to use the earth’s goods responsibly. This big question is… how?

Today provides the perfect opportunity to consider our current actions and evaluate where they fall in terms of sustainability. Are there things we could be doing to reduce our impact on the planet, and the burden on future generations?

Every person is in a different season with a different capacity, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this.

One family might be able to own one car, compost, grow all their own vegetables, and buy all organic clothing. Another family might not have the capacity for any of these things. But we can all assess our own actions and see where we might be able to make some changes that demonstrate “respect for the integrity of creation.”

Maybe it’s keeping a reusable coffee mug in your car for your coffee shop run, or switching from paper towels to cloth towels for kitchen clean-up. Maybe you can host a clothing swap instead of shopping for new clothing (the conventional fashion industry has a tremendous impact on the environment).

Caring for Creation this Earth Day and Beyond

The good news is that no matter your age, stage or season, there is something you can do to “cultivate and care for” the earth, and every tiny step is worthwhile and beneficial.

In the words of St. John of Damascus, “the whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”

This Earth Day, and every day, let us live and act like it.

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Valerie Keinsley is a wife to a police officer and mama to two little ones living in central Indiana, where she and her husband are currently doing a massive renovation of their 116-year-old home. She loves WWII novels, decaf chai lattes, and trying to keep houseplants alive. She is striving to find and name beauty in the midst of the mundane, and loves to share her “good lists” on Instagram. You can find out more about her here.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Paola @ Swallow the World
    April 24, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    It’s sad that many Catholics view environmentalism as a silly thing of atheist and leftists, when we should be much more concerned than those people! We will respond to God about how we have treated His creation. And it is not right to destroy the beauty He has put in the world. Thanks for this article <3

  • Reply
    Janet K
    April 25, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    OH I really love this post. It gave me so much to think about. I am working on ways that I can make a difference and bringing my own coffee cup with me and a reusable straw are two things that I have started. Thanks for the suggestions.

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