The ‘Green Pope’—For Creation and Creature

One of the more welcome advances in recent decades has been a growing respect for the environment. Pollution of air, earth and water has had toxic effects, and an assertive protection of creation has become a noble and urgent goal for people everywhere.

Those dedicated to ecology will speak eloquently about the built-in rhythm, structure and balance of nature. Creation, they eloquently tell us, has an order about it, a delicate stasis that must not be tampered with or compromised. If you upset nature’s equilibrium, they remind us—by pollution, abuse of the earth or using the air, soil, waterways or oceans as dumping grounds for our toxic trash or emissions—that tender poise inherent in nature will be compromised, and, in the long run, we will all suffer.

Pope Benedict XVI has been a champion of protecting the environment. In fact, he has been called the “green Pope” to signify his cogent teaching on the moral imperative of respect for God’s creation.

However, the Holy Father has gone a step further.

He reminds us that, just as there is an integrity in creation that must be safeguarded, and a “law of nature” that should be evident to us who might threaten it by our abuse, so is there an order innate in creatures, especially the highest one of all, the human person, that calls for reverence.

And, Pope Benedict reminds us, just as we disobey nature’s law, by pollution and overuse of earth’s resources, at our peril, so do we disregard the nature inherent in the human person only at grave risk.

Listen, for instance, to what he said recently to the German parliament:

The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and must answer accordingly. Yet, I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected…There is also an ecology in 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…His will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it, and accepts himself for who he is…

The Pontiff’s observation is, of course, not new. Philosophers, poets and peasants from the earliest times have noted that ingrained in each woman and man, in every creature, just as inherent in the environment, is an order, a set of basic “dos and don’ts” to keep the ecology of our own person on proper course. Sometimes we call this the natural law, that innate sense of probity deep within.

As the Holy Father teaches, just as disturbing the environment outside of us has dire consequences, so does contradicting the inner ecology of our very person harm ourselves and others.

Sadly, at the very time more and more people are realizing that the environment of nature and creation demands respect and protection, fewer and fewer people acknowledge that the ecology inherent in the human person needs reverence as well.

When the environment of the human person is “polluted” by disobedience to the natural law protecting it, there is, literally, “hell to pay,” for that individual, and for the common good.

Abuse of eating and drinking; introduction of toxic chemicals into one’s interior environment; tampering with the natural order of birth and death; destruction of one’s own life or that of another; removal of sexual pleasure from the lifelong, lifegiving, faithful, loving union of a man and woman in marriage; selfish treatment of others; the destruction of the baby in the womb; a lack of regard for the common good; a violation of virtues such as honesty and trust—these are all contrary to the natural order of the human person intended to protect and defend our inner ecology.

We have a moral imperative to protect the environment “out there”—as well as “in here,” within our own person.

This is a fitting theme for Advent: all of creation, and all creatures, await the salvation only the Creator can bring. The Creator’s “original design” for His creation and His creatures was fractured by “original sin.” We groan as we hope for the one to restore it—creation—and us—His creatures—and will welcome Him with joy at the feast of His birth in 25 days.

No wonder “green” is a Christmas color!

A blessed Advent!