Recently Pope Benedict XVI has focused on the theme of education, and has given centrality to two concepts: 1. a steadfast patience and 2. truth. Both of these have implications for the environment.
1. In an address to university students in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI quoted St. James who urges us to have the attitude of the farmer: “Be steadfast, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7) and exhorts us to imitate the farmer, who “steadfastly waits for the precious fruit of the earth” (James 5:7), “Look at the farmer: he steadfastly waits” (James 5:7). The Pope affirms that this may seem to be anachronistic in our times of technology, human enterprise and the immediate; but it is not. Th truth is that we are not “the only architects of history”, but rather God is. The only things that last are the one’s built on God. God is like a farmer himself, and only with Him can we truly solve the problems of the world, including the environmental problem. The metaphor of the man working, and waiting in the land, is a pointer towards a Catholic environmental attitude. God…
“is the true “farmer” of history, who knows how to wait. How many times have men tried to build the world without or against God! The result is marked by the tragedy of ideologies that, in the end, showed themselves to be against man and his profound dignity. Patient steadfastness in the construction of history, both at the personal and communal level, is not the same as the traditional virtue of prudence, which is certainly necessary, but is something greater and more complex. Being steadfast and patient means learning how to construct history together with God, because the edifice will stand only if it is built upon him and with him; only thus will it not be instrumentalized for ideological ends but be something truly worthy of man.”
2. This leads us to the second text, the Pope’s address for the World Day of Peace, dedicated to the education of the youth. Here the Pope explicitly highlighted the roots of our current crisis: “the roots are primarily cultural and anthropological” (1). This echoes a recent statement to the pontifical council to the laity, and is directly applicable to the Church’s understanding of the roots of current environmental problems, echoed in the same address for the World Day of Peace in 1990 by Pope John Paul II and 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI. Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI highlighted the importance of educating in ” truth and freedom” , familiar central points of Ratzinger’s thought. The search for truth ultimately leads to the truth about man, an answer urgently needed to resolve the environmental crisis. Without the truth of man, we lose sight of the truth of freedom, and our mis-used freedom ends up abusing the world. The fundamental premise is that the anthropological error leads to the environmental error, which becomes a reflection of our own disorder (cf. Gaudium et spes 10). Below, the Pope’s own words:
Saint Augustine once asked: “Quid enim fortius desiderat anima quam veritatem? – What does man desire more deeply than truth?”(2) The human face of a society depends very much on the contribution of education to keep this irrepressible question alive. Education, indeed, is concerned with the integral formation of the person, including the moral and spiritual dimension, focused upon man’s final end and the good of the society to which he belongs. Therefore, in order to educate in truth, it is necessary first and foremost to know who the human person is, to know human nature. Contemplating the world around him, the Psalmist reflects: “When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4-5). This is the fundamental question that must be asked: who is man? Man is a being who bears within his heart a thirst for the infinite, a thirst for truth – a truth which is not partial but capable of explaining life’s meaning – since he was created in the image and likeness of God…
Only in relation to God does man come to understand also the meaning of human freedom. It is the task of education to form people in authentic freedom. This is not the absence of constraint or the supremacy of free will, it is not the absolutism of the self. When man believes himself to be absolute, to depend on nothing and no one, to be able to do anything he wants, he ends up contradicting the truth of his own being and forfeiting his freedom. On the contrary, man is a relational being, who lives in relationship with others and especially with God. Authentic freedom can never be attained independently of God.
Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one; it can be misunderstood and misused. “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own self. With such a relativistic horizon, therefore, real education is not possible without the light of the truth; sooner or later, every person is in fact condemned to doubting the goodness of his or her own life and the relationships of which it consists, the validity of his or her commitment to build with others something in common”(4).