As Christians striving for virtue, we are all called to live in a way that reflects the Gospel message. There are various ways that we can live out this calling. Participation in prayer and the Sacraments and loving our neighbors as ourselves are just a few ways. One way in a particular way that we are called to live the Gospel message is through our care and concern for the gifts that God has generously given to us. Arguably, one of the greatest of these gifts is the earth, our home this side of heaven.
Pope Francis: Care of Our Common Home
Recently, there has been an epidemic regarding the state of our environment, and it has been looking more and more as if this earth of ours is slowly declining. Our wonderful Holy Father, Pope Francis, has addressed this issue in his latest papal encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home. Published in 2015, this encyclical calls for a new, global dialogue regarding the state of the environment and the measures that should be taken in protecting the earth. This encyclical makes clear that the earth must be protected because of the sacredness of life:
“The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.”
In this encyclical, Pope Francis calls us to take a “frank look” at the undeniable facts of the state of our environment. Referring to the recent rise of global temperatures in the last year, the excessive amounts of gases that pollute our atmosphere, and many other environmental concerns, Pope Francis writes that the earth “is like a sister” that must be protected (1).
Human intervention, he explains, is making the Earth less beautiful. Being that the earth is not ours but God’s gift to us, it is our Christian duty to protect our planet from harmful consequence. He goes on to say that we “have come to see ourselves as [the Earth’s] lords and masters” and “have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth” (2). He emphasizes the fact that we must take action in protecting the earth:
“These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty, and fullness” (53).
Combating Our “Throwaway Culture”
After reading this encyclical, something I found striking is the way our Holy Father talks about our “throwaway culture”. This type of culture is rooted in a utilitarian attitude, in which resources are used in excess and God’s generosity is not valued. Our culture seeks to use things and then simply discard of them once they have served their purpose. Nothing is seen as anything than a means to an end. The root cause of recent environmental issues, he says, is due to this “throwaway culture” of ours. “The earth…”, he writes, “…is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth”.
We Must Come to a “Global Consensus”
Different from past Papal Encyclicals that are either directed exclusively to the bishops or only to those who are practicing Catholics, Laudato Si is unique in that it is addressed to the entire world. Pope Francis urges us in the encyclical that the only way that this issue will be solved is if we all come to together on the global level. He writes that we all must have a “global consensus”:
“We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference” (52).
However, Pope Francis puts a special emphasis on how Christians in particular–called to live lives of virtue–should be “Stewards of Creation” by protecting one of God’s greatest gifts to us, the Earth. Actively protecting the environment is not optional for Christians, he writes; it is our vocation, and it is essential in order to live virtuously.
The Pope provides many practical suggestions for reducing our individual carbon footprint. Among these, he suggests that we can avoid our use of paper and plastic, use public transportation more often, plant more trees, and reduce our electricity use. These are very small but highly effective actions ways in which we can all live our Christian duty in protecting this great earth that God has given us.
Solving environmental concerns is not an overnight miracle. It is a process. And it starts with us. As Catholics, we are called to come together to look for solutions. I challenge my readers to be more mindful of how we treating God’s gifts. My hope is that the Church–and the entire world–will one day come together on this issue of protecting the earth from harmful consequences.