Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 17, 2017

Earth Concerns News

Pope Francis: Good News for the Whole Earth Community by Sister Linda Neil, CSJ


In my new ministry at St. Joseph,s Church in Schenectady, I have been able to visit in the last four months a good number of churches, both Protestant and Catholic. I have the habit of checking out trash bins. Call it an illness or call it being aware, this is something I do with religious regularity. Most of the time, I am so disappointed at what I see there--plastic, paper, cardboard--are all items that could be recycled. I think, "Wow! This church really doesn't have a recycling program!" Now I say that sentence because a program means that members of the church community have been educated about how and what the church recycles; recycling is a value and a priority. That is very different from just a few souls working at the recycling. Often, when I am cleaning up after a meeting, I will ask, "Where can I put this?" referring to an item that may be recycled or reused. Many times the response is, "Just throw it away." And, of course, there is the coffee/tea/refreshment event, replete with throw-away items. Now I realize that this thought might sound very judgmental; there may be extenuating circumstances. However, I think also about our Chapter Call for Communion within the Earth Community and ask the question: "How does this decision/action impact the Earth Community?" The reality is that these "small" decisions, made by thousands of faith-based communities, have a huge impact!

Of course, there are parishes and religious institutions that are very Earth conscious and whose members are doing amazing things for sustainability. Last month, Mary Lou Dolan wrote about what The College of Saint Rose is doing, and Shaker Pointe is celebrating its LEED certification! As Catholics, we have a social teaching that impels us to care for creation. This teaching can help us to be more aware and to maximize our impact for the good of the Earth Community. The good news is that this social teaching is being championed by Pope Francis!

In his homily for the feast of St. Joseph, the Holy Father mentioned four times that his expectation is for the Church to be a protector of Creation. "Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, protect creation. That means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as St. Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live." (quoted from America magazine, April 8-15, 2013). Pope Francis has a balance that is so incredible! In this one statement, he connects the power and passion of our own spirituality with the mission of the Church to care for the whole community of life. Pope Francis inextricably connects the human with Creation: we cannot truly care for one and not the other. There is no hope for healthy, productive humans on a sick, convulsing planet.

Pope Francis continues in this same homily, "Please, I would like to ask all those with positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: Let us be protectors of God's creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment." The "job" of caring for the web of life doesn't fall to a few. The task to conserve and preserve the environment is not the responsibility of environmentalists; the job belongs to all of us. The pope points out that we learn this from Nature herself, the first book of God's word to us.

In his talk on June 5, 2013, World Environment Day, Pope Francis reflected on the Creation account in Genesis: "And the question comes to my mind: What does cultivating and caring for the earth mean? Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation, or are we exploiting and neglecting it? The verb "to cultivate" reminds me of the care that the farmer has for his land, so that it will bear fruit, and it is shared: How much attention, passion and dedication! Cultivating and caring for creation is God's indication given to each one of us not only at the beginning of history; it is part of His project; it means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone."

These are excellent questions on which to reflect. What does it mean to care for Earth, in the words of our chapter call, "[to take] informed action for justice for the whole Earth community"?

In the same talk, Pope Francis has much to say about our "culture of waste," a culture which wastes the gifts of creation, the gifts of the human person and, most especially, the gift of food while so many persons starve. How do I, how do we contribute to the culture of waste? (quotes taken from The World Catholic Report, June 5, 2014) These are questions that we will consider together at our forums and for assembly.

Pope Francis also connects care for creation with peace, the great desire of all of us. In his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday, he said, "Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources! Peace to this our Earth! May the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation!"

The pope's message on the environment, his desire for us to re-examine our treatment of the Earth Community and his call to return to "the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation" are, indeed, Good News for us to celebrate!