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4/27/11 | 1 comment |
For Catholics, every day is Earth Day
I pulled up beside the big van in the parking lot of one of our favorite natural parks. On its bumper, a sticker proudly proclaimed “Treehugger.” Out of the van spilled half a dozen darling Catholic kids and their homeschooling mom. These kids are passionate about nature, a passion they’ve learned, no doubt, from their mother. And they are passionate about their faith.
Why is it that so often conservative Catholics scoff at the environmentalists as if care of the earth — and appreciation of the earth — is solely a “liberal cause?” We have been entrusted by the Creator to be careful stewards of creation. Earth Day belongs to the Christians. And really, every day should be Earth Day.
Every day should be a new opportunity to be mindful, grateful, purposeful citizens in the garden of the Lord. As Catholics, we understand that God has created every living creature and, indeed, all of creation. We understand the value of life and the call upon us to protect and preserve it. We understand the proper order of environmentalism, so that we are unlikely to distort the mission, saving the baby whales and aborting the baby humans. This is the world God created for us and He intends for us to enjoy it, to be sustained by it and to sustain it.
Blessed John Paul II was the foremost defender of the culture of life in our time. He was articulate and unwavering. He was also passionate about the life we find in nature. An avid outdoorsman, a lifelong proponent of quiet with God in nature, he set a personal example of living, breathing, being in the garden of God.
In the encyclical Centesimus Annus, he wrote:
“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. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.”
There is a clear call to all Catholics to be good stewards of creation and the natural world. There is also a clear call to be leaders among those who work to appreciate and preserve the earth. It’s a daunting task. It’s a big world and the environmentalists who most readily come to mind are radical hippies who throw blood in the name of protecting animals. We are not they. We are not they any more than we are the radicals bombing abortion clinics.
We are peaceful. We are respectful. And we are teaching our children well to live that respect. My friend with the Treehuger bumper sticker? She is a tree hugger. Literally. She and her family travel to old trees in Virginia, legendary trees with a history and they learn about them. They touch them (they might even hug them), absorbing the grace He gives in the natural world around those magnificent, enduring plants. They don’t worship the trees. They worship the astonishing Creator who has bestowed riches upon riches on us in the natural world. Goodness.
Conservatism is not just an economic way of life. It’s a moral one. Catholics are rooted in natural law. They are ideally equipped to defend life and to live according to the principles of subsidiarity. That doesn’t mean paving over forests. It means protecting the fragile flowers that live and grow there. And it means that as parents we have a responsibility to think deeply about all of God’s creation, to teach our children to respect and protect it, and to remind our families, by the way we live, that for practicing Catholics, every day is Earth Day.
Foss is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.