Our Physical Environment
Requires Faith & Conversion
Our Excessive Consumption
God’s Precious Gift
Solidarity with Future Generations
An Ecological Crisis
Intimately Linked with our Human Environment
“And God saw that it was good”.
“A radical challenge…is to use the earth’s resources wisely and responsibly…To do this is to respect the will of the Creator.”
Three Recurring Topics…
Three recurring topics underlying or emanating from the Church’s concern for our physical environment and our response to ecological issues include:
The Unity of the Human and Physical Environment
“The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
“[N]o peaceful society can afford to neglect either respect for life or the fact that there is an integrity to creation“. (Pope St. John Paul II, 1)
“Creation is made to connect us with God and to each other; it is God’s social network.” (Pope Francis)
“When ‘human ecology‘ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
“Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 16)
“The Church has a responsibility towards creation”. However, “[s]he must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology“. (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
Solidarity with Future Generations
“[H]umanity today must be conscious of its duties and obligations towards future generations.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 37)
“A greater sense of intergenerational solidarity is urgently needed. Future generations cannot be saddled with the cost of our use of common environmental resources.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 8)
“We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity“. (Pope Francis, 159)
“Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” (Pope Francis, 159)
“We are the heirs of earlier generations, and we reap benefits from the efforts of our contemporaries; we are under obligation to all men. Therefore we cannot disregard the welfare of those who will come after us to increase the human family.” (Pope St. Paul VI, 17)
The Pathology of Excessive Consumption
“Too many of us act like tyrants with regard to creation.” (Pope Francis)
“[M]an consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 37)
“It should be evident that the ecological crisis cannot be viewed in isolation from other related questions…Specifically, they call for a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity”. (Pope Benedict XVI, 5)
“[O]ur lifestyles…our daily decisions…about material goods, can often be thoughtless and harmful.” (Pope Francis)
“Let us make an effort to change and to adopt more simple and respectful lifestyles!“ (Pope Francis)
…And, One Profound Dimension
A Spirituality Based in the Holy Mass
Celebration of the Mass “helps us to see the unity of God’s plan and to grasp the profound relationship between creation and the “new creation” inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ”. (Pope Benedict XVI, 92)
“The presentation of the gifts…leads us to see the world as God’s creation, which brings forth everything we need for our sustenance.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 92)
“[J]ust as in the Eucharist the bread and the wine become Christ…so creation becomes the personal word of God“. (Pope Francis, “Our Mother Earth: A Christian Reading of the Environmental Challenge” Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2019)
“A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable.” (Pope Francis, 76)
Pope Francis’ spiritual understanding of “our common home” may be seen as a 21st century illumination of St. Francis of Assisi’s 13th century formulation of “nature” as the mirror of God – even calling all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters”.
NOTE: On October 24, 2019 the Vatican’s Libreria Editrice Vaticana released “Our Mother Earth: A Christian Reading of the Environmental Challenge” – a book of passages from Pope Francis’ encyclicals, texts, homilies and speeches on the environment.
How Do We Fix the Problem?
Advance A Human Ecology
“There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology.” (Pope Francis, 118)
“The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations…It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
“Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person.” (Synod of Bishops, XIII Ordinary General Assembly, 21)
“Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
The Church points out “the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
The “answer“ is found in Jesus because: “once Jesus dwells in our heart, the center of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love.” (Pope Francis)
“Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 15)
We require a “spiritual rebirth“, seeing all of creation as a gift from God – given out of His immense love for humanity. (Pope Francis, “Our Mother Earth: A Christian Reading of the Environmental Challenge”)
We need to experience an “ecological conversion” – wherein awareness is translated into action and “a profound revision of our cultural and economic models”. (Pope Francis, “Our Mother Earth: A Christian Reading of the Environmental Challenge”)
“[C]onsumer attitudes and life styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to [our] physical and spiritual health”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
“Society must undertake “a serious review of its lifestyle, which in many parts of the world is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
We need to ask ourselves: “Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?” (Pope Francis)
We must change our models of consumption from a style of life directed towards “having” rather than “being”. We must reject a “web of false and superficial gratifications.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 41)
“The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favors a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds”. (Pope Francis, 67)
The goal of Catholic social teaching is for life styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of the common good will determine consumers’ choices, savings, and investments. (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
“Sin and ‘structures of sin‘…give a name to the root of the evils which afflict us.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 37)
It is structures of sin that “produce evil, pollute the environment, hurt and humiliate the poor, [and] favor the logic of possession and of power”. (Pope Francis, “Our Mother Earth: A Christian Reading of the Environmental Challenge”)
“Let us demand political decisions that combine progress and equality, development and sustainability for everyone“. (Pope Francis)
We need “a profound revision of our cultural and economic models“. (Pope Francis, “Our Mother Earth: A Christian Reading of the Environmental Challenge”)
We must “move from models founded on control and possession, power and success (a situation where ‘[h]uman beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded'”) to ones that promote well-ordered growth and solidarity. (Pope Francis, 53)
“[S]tructures of sin’…can be overcome only through the exercise of the human and Christian solidarity…Only in this way can such positive energies be fully released for the benefit of development and peace.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 40)
But, Most of All, We Must Promote Integral Ecology
What About Climate Change?
The call for an “ecology of the human person” involves issues of the social structure in which we live. These structures can either help or hinder our living in accordance with the truth and it is here that Catholic social teaching begins to integrate issues of life.
“I readily encourage efforts to promote a greater sense of ecological responsibility which…would safeguard an authentic ‘human ecology’ and thus forcefully reaffirm the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one is trained in love of neighbor and respect for nature.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 12)
Q: Is climate change a ‘topic’ for Catholic social teaching?
A: Yes. Ecological issues were introduced to CST by Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus wherein he said “In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way…In this regard, humanity today must be conscious of its duties and obligations towards future generations.” (Pope St. John Paul, 37)
Pope Benedict XVI, while not usually recognized for it, reiterated and strengthened this concern for the environment – a concern he expressed consistently throughout his pontificate – saying: “The earth is a precious gift of the Creator, who has designed its intrinsic order, thus giving us guidelines to which we must hold ourselves as stewards of his creation…In my recent Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I referred more than once to such questions.” (General Audience, August 26, 2009) Pope Benedict XVI also made this topic the theme for his 2010 World Day of Peace Message wherein he made the most developed magisterial case, to that point, on the topic of the environment.
Pope Francis has now dedicated an entire encyclical (Laudato Si’) to this wherein he expresses his “hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.” (Laudato Si’, 15)
Q: Who is responsible for stewardship of the Earth?
Pope Francis ‘elevated the bar’ with this: “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.” (Address to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, 3.1)
Pope St. John Paul II directly tied this “commandment” to Catholic social teaching when he called for the Church to announce “Christ to leaders, men and women alike, insisting especially on the formation of consciences on the basis of the Church’s social doctrine.” (Ecclesia in America, 67)
Q: How should lay Catholics implement the Church’s teaching on environmental issues?
A: Pope Benedict XVI said, “the formation of just structures…belongs to the world of politics”. (Deus Caritas Est, 29)
Pope Francis has “raised the stakes”: “Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions”. (World Day of Peace, 2019)
“We, Christians, cannot ‘play Pilate’ and wash our hands…We must participate in politics because politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it seeks the common good. And Christian lay people must work in politics.” (Address to the Students of the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania, 7 June 2013)
Pope Francis also recognizes that this “is not easy; politics has become too tainted. But I ask myself: Why has it become tainted? Because Christians have not participated in politics with an evangelical spirit? …To work for the common good is a Christian duty, and many times the way in which to work towards it is through politics.” (ibid.)
Q: Is climate change a political issue, thereby requiring lay Catholic involvement?
A: Clearly, in the U.S., the answer is ‘yes’. One political party committed the country to a significant international accord on the topic and has proposed a “Green New Deal” which would allocate tremendous resources to it; the other party has withdrawn the U.S. from the international accord and opposes the other party’s current proposals.
Q: How, then, do we best fulfill our ‘requirement’ - How should we apply Catholic social teaching?
A: We must internalize Catholic social teaching. Then, having formed our conscience on it, we must, by duty and in charity, actively engage in the secular world.
We should follow Pope Saint John Paul II’s call to form our conscience on CST and then engage the world with its tenets. This commitment entails addressing issues starting fromCatholic social teaching principles rather than from positions. Here, “people of goodwill” can/should dialogue and can disagree on “positions” – as long as their prudential judgement is well formed with a deep internalization of Catholic social teaching principles.
The Four Pathologies
The Church identifies four dangers or major ‘risks and problems’ eating away at the cultural, economic, and political systems and begins to identify how to cure them.
“The exclusive pursuit of material possessions prevents man's growth as a human being and stands in opposition to his true grandeur.” (Pope St. Paul VI, 19) A person who is concerned solely or primarily with possessing and enjoying – who can no longer subordinate his instincts - cannot be free.
Both our physical and human environment are at risk and the Church insists we ignore neither! “It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development." (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)
We are losing the “authentic meaning of life”! When we refuse to transcend ourselves “and to live the experience of self-giving". (Pope St. John Paul II, 41) when society “is marked by a ‘globalization of indifference’ that makes us…closed in on ourselves.” (Pope Francis, 1) both the individual and society are alienated.
“The greatest challenge of our time is secularization” (Pope Benedict XVI, 3) Why? Radical secularism holds that there is no such thing as an objective truth. But, “Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 5)
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