Strarford and Sophie Caldecott present us a resume of their lecture presented in the frame of WYD held in Rio de Janeiro on July, 2013. This beautiful document have special relevance in the context of the next encyclical about Ecology that our Pope is writing.
Through the pontificates of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, ecology has become an important part of Catholic social teaching. In 2011, Pope Benedict said, “The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly.” In his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis asked us to become “’protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” We have been reminded over and over again that, as Pope Francis also said in a Tweet on 5 June: “Care of creation is not just something God spoke of at the dawn of history: he entrusts it to each of us as part of his plan.”
Many scientist have dedicated their life to trying to save as much as they can, but many of them do it without the support that our faith gives us. They are defending God’s creation without even knowing who God is – just because they know it is the right thing to do. Not only are they defending the beauty of nature, but also they are trying to help preserve human life on earth, which depends on the survival of the “ecosystem”. As Catholics, we have even more reason to get involved in this issue. Our Christian faith tells us that this responsibility is part of what we were created for. The Book of Genesis (2:15) tells us “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
Like response to the mentioned before, we need a humanistic ecological vision that takes account of the special nature of human beings, as well as the ecosystem in which we belong. This vision, as Pope Benedict said, should take in “not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations”; that is, our “duties towards the human person” (Caritas in Veritate, 51). For all these things are part of what we mean by the nature of human beings. We are social by nature. We are born into families. We find meaning in our lives through loving and serving others. We have a dignity that can be expressed in the form of rights and duties.
Pope Benedict taught us that Christianity tries to balance the value of the human person with the value of nature as God’s creation. The Book of Genesis – as well as the Psalms and many other parts of the Bible, which praise the glories of nature – teach Christians to be responsible and gentle and wise in the way we behave towards the world around us. The virtue of Prudence instructs us to take special care to preserve the natural resources on which our lives and those of our children depend. The other three “cardinal virtues” that are part of the Christian life are just as relevant. Temperance tells us that we must not become greedy, addicted to consumption, living a lifestyle that depends on having more and more. The virtue of Justice reminds us that many of us in the richer countries of the world support our lifestyle at the expense of the poorer countries. And we need the virtue of Fortitude or Courage to strengthen us for what we have to do – to find ways to change the way we live, to be kinder to the earth, fairer to our fellow human beings, and merciful towards the animals and plants that God has created out of his love and wisdom.
Pope Francis recently condemned our culture’s unrestrained greed, saying: “Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’”
As young people we are consumers of clothing, and most of us would agree we should try to make sure we are not supporting unfair businesses, or buying things whose negative impact on the environment is hidden from view. If we are running a business, it is easy to say that we must not exploit our workers unfairly, or use immoral or illegal business practices to destroy competitors. That’s easy to say, sometimes less easy to do, in a fiercely competitive economy. We need ethical consumer organizations and corporate whistleblowers to help us. One thing we mustn’t do is assume that what we buy, what we wear, what we eat, is somehow unconnected with what I was saying earlier about the planet. If there is one thing ecology has taught us, it is that everything is connected.
In his speech to the German Bundestag in September 2011 called “The Listening Heart”, Pope Benedict said this: “We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself.”
The Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II is all about what we find when we understand our own nature as created by God. The Pope talks about the “spousal” or “nuptial” meaning of the body, about the fact that we were made for love, and that there is a “way of living the body” in its authentic masculinity and femininity. This nuptial meaning has been limited, violated and deformed over time and by modern culture, until we have almost lost the power of seeing it, but it is still there to be discovered with the help of grace, like a spark deep within the human heart. The “language of the body” is part of that “language of nature” that Pope Benedict speaks of. The way we live, the clothes we buy and wear, the work we do, the way we treat each other, and, yes, the way we treat animals and the whole of nature, should reflect our understanding of that language – the fact that we are put here not to destroy and exploit but to love and cooperate.
In our families, and with our children when they come, we must draw on the love that opens our eyes to reality, as Pope Francis says in his encyclical Lumen Fidei (2013): “Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes” (n. 26). In turn, by revealing the love of God the Creator, faith “enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted” (n. 55).