In a video message, the Holy Father urged world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit to act with “honesty, courage and responsibility”, and called for “real political will to allocate greater human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations, who suffer the most.”
Catholics should be deeply concerned about the environment: not only because Creation is God’s gift, but also because the weather extremes caused by global warming imperil the lives and livelihoods of our brothers and sisters around the world.
How should our Catholic faith guide our relationship to the natural environment?
Creation is a Gift
“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)
The Bible opens with a breathtaking vision of a loving and rational God willing the universe into being. There is order and beauty; the harmonious inter-dependence of living things; and finally, there is humanity, created in the very image and likeness of God.
God endows the natural world with everything needed to sustain life. Contemplating it allows us to meditate on the wonder of God’s love, and to appreciate the need to preserve its beauty and fertility.
“Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 67)
We are Stewards of Creation
God said to humanity: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over… every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28)
Humanity is unique amongst God’s creation. Ours is the only species with the mental and physical ability to alter our living environment on a large scale.
Yet, Scripture reminds us, the world is not ours to abuse and destroy. In fact, Pope St John Paul II wrote in Laborem Exercens that we are God’s hands on earth, “contributing to the realisation in history of the Divine plan” as we work to bring out the best in Creation.
Jesus reminds us in parables that the Master of the house has left His stewards in charge – but when He returns, they will be called to account for how they have managed his property.
“We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 67)
Examples of domination include: using animal life cruelly and wastefully for food or sport; the over-consumption of resources for frivolous reasons; and indiscriminately polluting our earth, water and air.
Creation is Flawed
And God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it.” (Gen 3:17)
But Creation is no longer perfect. The Fall of Adam and Eve damaged humanity’s ability to live in harmony with God, nature, and each other. Sickness, suffering and death enter the picture.
While God does not take His gifts away, humanity now struggles to use them well, particularly since our minds are now clouded by greed and other vices. We are tempted to take more and more from the natural environment, regardless of the long-term impact on it and on our descendants.
Suggestions for Good Stewardship
Our Catholic faith reminds us to exercise stewardship instead of selfishness. Here are some principles to help us discern if we are using God’s gifts responsibly:
Moderation: How necessary is this item? Am I buying it because of consumerism, peer pressure or marketing hype?
Conscious Consumption: What is the environmental impact of buying and using this product, including the cost of importing it to Singapore? Are there less harmful alternatives? How can I reduce my usage of single-use disposable items and packaging?
Generosity: Do I extend the lifespan of unwanted items by giving them away, repurposing them, or donating them to thrift shops? Do I love my neighbour by ensuring that my giveaways are in good condition?
Respect for the Common Good: What is the social impact of buying and using this product? Am I willing to pay more for sustainably and ethically produced goods?
Love for Future Generations: Do I live frugally to preserve the Earth’s resources for those who come after me? Do my political and economic decisions signal that I support efforts to rein in climate change and pollution?