Our Earth is heating up, glaciers in the poles are melting, and plastics have flooded the seas and found their way into our ecosystem. So, what is our role as Catholics?
It may appear that the Church is simply adding to the many distressing calls for environmental responsibility and action. Is this the only thing our Catholic faith has to offer? Just another voice, too soft, too late, shouting to care for our Mother Earth? No, not at all.
Our Earth is talking to us, and we must listen to it and decipher its message if we want to survive.
– Pope Benedict XVI, 24 July 2007.
Pope Francis made headlines in 2015 when he devoted his second encyclical Laudato Si’ to this concern. The call has always been there… but we have been slow to hear it. And so, our actions on this climate crisis have been accidental at best. Many have not taken this urgent duty as one of their Catholic duties. Instead, they view this crisis as an ethical concern, one which is disconnected from their faith.
Those involved in environmentalism also risk considering nature as an untouchable taboo totally separate from Man, who appears to be the villain in this narrative. But we should take a step back and discern how to ignite action through the community because we are not outside nature, but part of it. We are the only part of the Earth that has free will and can exert responsibility.
We are the only stewards of the Earth. We must take responsibility for the Earth not because the Earth or the animals have rights, but because we have responsibilities and duties toward other people in poorer countries who suffer even more the devastating consequences of climate crisis, and the future generations. Moreover, this Earth, this nature is God’s creation. Every seed that grows and every baby born is an act of God’s creation. Nature is not simply a given state of affairs but it has the hand of God in it. This not simply a given state of existence; but a divine gift shaped by the hand of God.
We are entrusted with a talent, a golden coin, not only to preserve it but to care for it making it even more beautiful and more of a gift to everyone. Burying this talent in the ground (cf. Matthew 25:14), untouched, in fear of taking responsibility for it, will result in the very gift being snatched from us: “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants… and for destroying those who destroyed the Earth” (Revelation 11:18). On the contrary, for those who showed concern and care for the temporal gift of the Earth, a new earth and new heaven freed from all corruption is promised.
We should then initiate concrete steps to remedy the climate crisis. We are called to a frugal lifestyle, effective forms of recycling, and a more responsible and sustainable use of our resources. The reflections of the late Popes go beyond pure activism and appeal to a critical reflection on how the “ecological” message is preached today.
The Church calls for a re-understanding of the environment and man’s fundamental attitude towards it. Yes, although Man is part of the problem, we are also the only part of the solution. The hope of environmental action lies in the critical exercise of our stewardship towards the Earth, and by extension, all the living things that depend on it.
Written by Fr David Garcia. This article was first published in Caritas’ newsletter, Caritas in Mission.