Excitement on environmental guidebook is shortlived

By  Sara Francis, Catholic Register Special
  • November 29, 2014

I take seriously the call to stewardship of our environment and respect for God’s creation as a whole. So I was excited to delve into a new study guide produced by the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Living with Limits, Living Well! Hints for Neighbours on an Endangered Planet makes good arguments about curbing our consumption patterns and challenging the status quo. My issue with the guide is not what is said but what is left out. To put it plainly, I was hard pressed to find the name of Jesus within these pages. 

If I wasn’t paying close attention, the workbook could have been mistaken for a study guide published by a local environmental not-for-profit group, not the CCCB. Most of the quotes and information are gleaned from non-Catholic sources, with only a light dusting of quotes from Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, plus a few biblical references. It was the opposite of Christocentric and as such it ever so slightly moved the conversation away from Christ and the supernatural realm, toward Mother Earth and the natural realm. Benedict warned against this in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate

“…it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense.” 

I would have taken a different approach. The premise I would have adopted would be, “The state of our endangered environment is merely a reflection of the state of our endangered souls.” 

Saving our environment should not be our primary focus, but a natural consequence of getting our spiritual house in order. Working toward the end-goal of getting to heaven and taking as many people with us as possible requires an initial “yes” to taking our baptism seriously. Thereafter we need a constant daily conversion to live like Christ, developing a life of virtue. 

The Church takes seriously respect for the environment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says so, connecting the seventh commandment — you shall not steal — with how we are to respect the integrity of creation. The proper treatment of creation should be part of our examination of conscience. 

We need look no further than our rich tradition, magisterium and sacred Scripture to find answers about how to live an appropriate lifestyle that respects the whole of creation, including the waters, the land, the plants, the animals and last but not least, mankind. Humans are not outside of the environment. It’s not us against the Earth, but rather we are part of the environmental package, as Benedict wisely wrote: 

“It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help (people) 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.” 

When we strive to protect the dignity of the human person, we as a natural consequence work to protect the planet. Practising Catholics by our very nature are environmentalists. A Catholic who stands up against a culture that treats humans like trash by way of abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, poverty, prostitution and so on would be all the more likely to show a respect for nature and all living creatures. 

We need to help Catholics see the unity between living a life of faith and the positive impacts that has on our surrounding environment. As a wife and mother of three small children, one small example comes to mind. Catholics are instructed to treat their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, so we should strive to eat healthy food together and to make healthy food accessible for all. If every Catholic cut out red meat on Fridays and ate a simple humble meal, it would have a dramatic impact on food politics. Eating red meat used to be reserved for special occasions and now we have trouble serving fish one day a week on Fridays. Besides, eating supper together as a family not only nourishes our bodies, but strengthens our families. 

Overpopulation was not mentioned in the workbook, but environmentalists will often take a jab at large Catholic families for overpopulating the planet, thus pillaging its resources. But from a social justice perspective, it’s our greed and rate of consumption, not our family size, that’s taking a toll on the planet. Why is it today that smaller families live in larger homes and drive more vehicles? It’s large families who are generally resourceful enough to make ends meet. Why do we get the bad rap? 

Christ has already redeemed our fallen world through His life, death and resurrection and as Catholics, our life’s goal is not to save the planet, but rather to lead a holy life on the path to becoming saints. Being good stewards of God’s green Earth, a gift He entrusted to us, is one aspect of how we are called to holiness. Most saintly people I’ve ever read about lived humble lives, in a spirit of generosity. They knew not to store their treasures on Earth but in heaven. They knew their treasures weren’t big-screen TVs and vacations, but the poor, the sick, the lonely. 

Before we put our time and energy into saving our environment, we need to refocus on a life of prayer and the sacraments and save the Eucharist from becoming a relic of the past. Our planet will thank us. 

(Francis is a freelance writer in Calgary.) 

Living with Limits, Living Well! Hints for Neighbours on an Endangered Planet by William Ryan S.J., Janet Somerville, Anne O’Brien, GSIC and Anne-Marie Jackson (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Publications, spiral-bound soft cover, 54 pages, $15). 

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