Do Catholics have to care for creation?

The church recognizes climate change as a problem that must be addressed.
Religion

Many people are familiar with the Book of Genesis referring to humanity’s “dominion” over the earth (1:28). We often misunderstand this to mean we humans have free rein to exploit creation for our own gain, often at others’ expense. Rather, God, in providing for us through a life-giving world, bestowed upon humanity the responsibility of stewardship.

In Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home), Pope Francis clarifies that stewardship is an act of respect for creation. The world is more than a collection of resources for utilitarian consumption.

Pope Francis explains that creation is worthy of care because God created it: “Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of [God’s] love.”

Whenever a forest is cut down for development or agriculture (for products such as beef, coffee, or gasoline), how many “least of beings” are destroyed for our own consumptive lifestyles?

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“We take [ecosystems] into account . . . because they have an intrinsic value independent of their usefulness. . . . Although we are often not aware of it, we depend on these larger systems for our own existence.”

This interrelatedness between human and nonhuman creation has been evident during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Salvific love for one another and the environment depends on selfless actions: “These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. . . . Social love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a ‘culture of care’ which permeates all of society.”

By extension, we can work as a global community to solve climate change—something the church recognizes as a problem that must be addressed.

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Stewardship of creation dictates that, rather than consuming whatever we want, we take only what we need: “Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little.” This is especially true in our daily overconsumption of resources and energy that, as Pope Francis states, “leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.”

This challenging time has revealed not only our human frailty but also how much we depend on a healthy environment for both spiritual renewal and for life itself.

The pandemic crisis has also afforded a greater awareness of our interconnectedness with all creation.

In the end, we will be judged on how well we have loved God and each other. Both demand that we “till and keep” God’s creation and care for our common home.”

Pope Francis says that not fulfilling our charge as caretakers of creation is tantamount to sin, so caring for creation is critical to our salvation.

Image: Gustavo Quepón on Unsplash

About the author

Michael Wright

Michael Wright is a father of three, a retired NASA engineer, and a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania. He is author of national publications on the environment and faith, including the booklet 10 Things Pope Francis Wants You to Know About the Environment and Catholic Update: Pope Francis and the Environment (both from Liguori Publications), as well as articles in U.S. Catholic and National Catholic Reporter.

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