Living Our Faith as Stewards of Creation

Fri, 08/01/2008

The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God. Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith. We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention to both the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well being of future generations. The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God. The present environmental crisis affects those who are poorest in a particular way, whether they live in those lands subject to erosion and desertification, are involved in armed conflicts or subject to forced immigration, or because they do not have the economic and technological means to protect themselves from other calamities. True stewardship requires changes in human actions – both moral behavior and technical advancement. Our religious tradition has always urged restraint and moderation in the use of material goods, so we must not allow our desire to possess more material things to overtake our concern for the basic needs of people and the environment. Pope John Paul II has linked protecting the environment to “authentic human ecology,” which can overcome “structures of sin” and which promotes both human dignity and respect for creation. Technological innovation and entrepreneurship can help make possible options that can lead us to a more environmentally benign energy path. Changes in lifestyle based on traditional moral virtues can ease the way to a sustainable and equitable world economy in which sacrifice will no longer be an unpopular concept. For many of us, a life less focused on material gain may remind us that we are more than what we have. Rejecting the false promises of excessive or conspicuous consumption can even allow more time for family, friends, and civic responsibilities. A renewed sense of sacrifice and restraint could make an essential contribution to addressing global climate change. Pope Benedict XVI in a speech raised the specter of the deserts that are growing on the planet, deserts that are both spiritual and material. The pope said that it cannot be a matter of unconcern that so many of our contemporaries are living in the desert. “There is a desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment… The external deserts in the world are growing,” he asserted, “because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.” Global climate change poses one of the greatest threats to the most vulnerable among us. Because of poverty, age, health, and location, the poor are especially susceptible to the potential negative impacts of global climate change. The poor and vulnerable often do not have the economic and technological resources to either adapt to or ward off the expected impacts of climate change. Heat waves, droughts, and storms and their consequent economic costs fall most heavily upon the poor. Since the “least of these” are most at risk from the climate change, Christians have a particular duty to address the moral and human implications of climate change. Every creature depends upon the same global ecology, a series of separate yet interdependent systems that provide air, food, water, and basic resources. The planetary commons, comprising these shared resources, are easily exploited when we fail to recognize the interconnected nature of God’s creation. Therefore, common effort is required to preserve God’s gift to us. Attention to the environment must reflect the special concern for the poorest members of the human community, as poverty and environmental degradation often go hand in hand. God created the bounty of the earth to be shared among all, equitably and justly, and commands us to be stewards of creation. To embrace our role as stewards of God’s creation, we must employ restraint and moderation in the use of material goods, so we do not allow our desire to possess more material things to overtake our concern for the basic needs of people and the environment. In fulfilling our duties, we promote a focus on authentic development, encouraging the economic and spiritual advancement of the poorest peoples on earth as a means of living our faith.