Can the Francis effect save Christmas?

"An economic system centered on the god of money also needs to plunder nature, to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it". + Pope Francis, October 28, 2014

People in the United States will be sending one million extra tons of garbage to landfills in the next few weeks—a 25% increase. This annual spike will occur to varying degrees elsewhere on the globe thanks to holiday consumption. And the Holy Father is not happy about it.

While Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke often of the need for new lifestyles to keep the planet neat, tidy, and livable for all, few paid much attention to their eco-comments. But people are listening to Pope Francis—especially from the mainstream media.

And so there is a question for Catholics this Christmas: how can we leverage this attention? How can Catholics put into practice what Pope Francis is shouting from the rooftops of the Vatican?

Reducing our Christmas consumption is something many talk about every year. But with the Francis effect continuing to tug at the hearts of copy editors, lapsed Catholics, and others, perhaps we should be as dramatic as our Holy Father this Christmas and noticeably make do with less.

After all, this will help refocus the seasons of Advent and Christmas to where they should be: Christ and His humble entrance into human history and—please God—into our hearts.

On that note, we should recognize that reducing consumption will require explanations to friends, family, and coworkers about why we won’t be buying (or expecting) the many gifts that have cluttered our Christmas pasts. And that explanation—that conversation—can be an opportunity to teach and to evangelize.

Then, of course, there are the worldly benefits. Throttling down what we buy—from electronics to wrapping paper to too many plastic toys to too much food—means less resources wasted and more room in our landfills, not to mention a reduction in all sorts of pollution from accelerated manufacturing and shipping.

Certainly there are many economic realities around reducing what we purchase. Jobs are in the balance whenever one discusses changes to buying habits. But these discussions can no longer be postponed. Irrespective of what we do at Christmas, how the globe moves forward as an interrelated economy comes with implications for all workers and those with no work, as well as for the good of the planet’s ability to keep everyone’s water and air clean and our food plentiful.

I have posted previously on ideas for a greener Christmas, and there are lots more out there. But can we really change the way we keep Christmas? More to the point, do we have a choice?

The Holy Father tells us that—free will aside—we have few options.

Here are the words that follow his quote above. Keep in mind that he is speaking to groups representing the outcasts of the world—the homeless, the underemployed, the poor and forgotten from many corners of human society.

Climate change, the loss of bio-diversity, deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness, and you are the ones who suffer most, the humble, those who live near coasts in precarious dwellings or who are so vulnerable economically that, in face of a natural disaster, lose everything. Brothers and sisters: creation is not a property, which we can dispose of at will; much less so is it the property of a some, of a few: creation is a gift, it is a present, a wonderful gift that God has given us to take care of and to use for the benefit of all, always with respect and gratitude.

These are dramatic words. And they are not exclusive to Pope Francis. His predecessor put it his way:

In short, it is about assuming an interior attitude of responsibility, capable of inspiring a different style of life, with necessary sobriety in conduct and consumption, to thus favor the good of society. And that this is true also for future generations, for their sustainability, protection of the goods of creation, distribution of resources and, above all, the concrete commitment to the development of whole peoples and nations.

Assuming new interior lifestyles will mean uncomfortable changes for many of us—I know it will for me. But are you and I ready to make these changes?

Perhaps this Advent and this Christmas we can begin to find out. Perhaps this year, the Francis effect can begin the process of saving economies and ecosystems by saving the way we Christians keep Christmas.

Photo: Flicker/the idealist

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.