Creation refers to the entire universe and all that inhabit it. Though there is much debate regarding the cause and severity, the earth is currently experiencing environmental degradation. Widespread pollution, unsanitary living conditions, depleted lands, extinction of species, and harmful toxins in the atmosphere are just some of the many environmental problems. Yet proper treatment of the environment is especially important since it belongs to both current and future generations. Failure to care for creation will result in an uninhabitable earth. The poor and vulnerable will also be disproportionately targeted, as they typically occupy the areas that are degraded the most.
Misuse of creation goes beyond the environment and points to a larger crisis. Exploitation of the environment demeans what it means to be human. Humanity is called to protect the earth and live in harmony with it. When humans take advantage of the natural world, all of creation suffers.
THE CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE
Indications of God’s existence and purpose are found in creation (See Rom. 1:20). Likewise, creation is not something that can be used arbitrarily or exploited at will. Instead, humans are to show respect for God, the Creator, through their stewardship of creation (See Gen. 2:15). They are to safeguard the created world and to use their labor enhance it. This is a difficult balance because it requires humans to recognize their limits, but also foster their creativity. However, God alone – not humanity – is sovereign over all of creation.
There is a connectedness between all of creation, linking respect for nature with respect for human life. If humans have no qualms about degrading the environment, that which they have been entrusted to protect, then it is likely that they will also have no qualms about disregarding the most vulnerable among them. Catholics cannot proclaim to respect life, but then degrade the natural world. Care for creation requires sacrifices, but it is a God-given duty.
In his Papal Encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls humanity to experience a conversion of heart, so that there can be a return to God’s original plan for all creation. He explains:
The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Review Church documents on creation
-Pope Francis: Papal Encyclical Laudato Si’
-Vatican video clip on Laudato Si’
-USCCB primer on caring for creation
-Quotes from Church teaching on ecology
Reflect on the connectedness of creation
-Treatment of the natural world and treatment of the most vulnerable are linked
-USCCB blog post: Integral Ecology and Respect for Human Life
Take part in Catholic initiatives
-USCCB Environmental Justice Program
-Join Catholic Rural Life
-For young people: Catholic Youth Care for Creation and the Poor
Engage in eco-friendly practices
-Lifestyle changes may be challenging at first, but they are likely to make a positive environmental impact. Recycling, buying energy efficient appliances, using less water, installing solar panels, sharing materials, re-using items, planting trees, carpooling, and taking public transportation are all simple ways to care for creation.
Participate in environmental advocacy
-Take action via the Catholic Climate Covenant
Our mission to care for creation must begin with prayer. Here is a prayer based on Laudato Si'.
Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship--
with You, with ourselves, with one
another, and with creation.
Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human
family by recognizing that we are all
to our brothers and sisters around the
world, to those in poverty impacted by
environmental devastation, and to future
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all--
individuals and families, communities of
faith, and civil and political leaders.
Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home.