Christ: the only answer to ecological and individual poverty

A piece from about the world’s poor and their relation to the planet’s ecology contains sentiments that could have been spoken by Benedict XVI.

The author, Brian K. Murphy, sums up his thesis thus:
To take seriously the cause of the environment, including the issue of climate change, requires that we first take seriously the cause of justice itself. Only if we are able to do that will we have some cause for hope that the other challenges that lie ahead for humanity and the planet, including climate change, can also be met.
His concern is rightly with the great multitude in the world that are suffering immensely due to extreme poverty, political or social repression, and many other evils. Because these people suffer now and have no promise of a tomorrow, issues like climate change or the loss of biodiversity are not at the top of their concerns.

Mr. Murphy quotes a priest in his piece, a man who gives his life for the poor.
Some years ago I met a laconic, frayed-at-the-edges Italian priest who had spent years ministering in the sprawling marginal communities of internally displaced people in the Colombian border town of Cucuta.
He said to me, 'It is an indignity to announce the apocalypse to those already living at the end of the world'. Indeed.
This may only be a misunderstanding about the place of faith in the shadow of such suffering, and if so, this would be unfortunate. For elsewhere, Mr. Murphy makes excellent points. I hope that he and others know that when the Church speaks of ecology, she shares many of the same concerns that one finds in Mr. Murphy’s piece. Of course, the Church also preaches news that is ultimately infinitely good—words and truth that changes hearts and undoes the evil that brings about the suffering of so many. Indeed, it is only an encounter with Christ that can answer the pleas of such suffering.

This is exactly what the Church offers when she engages in modern dialogues, like the ecology. Here, for instance, is Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate:
The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its life-style, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences. What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new life-styles “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.” Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society. Nature, especially in our time, is so integrated into the dynamics of society and culture that by now it hardly constitutes an independent variable. Desertification and the decline in productivity in some agricultural areas are also the result of impoverishment and underdevelopment among their inhabitants. When incentives are offered for their economic and cultural development, nature itself is protected. Moreover, how many natural resources are squandered by wars! Peace in and among peoples would also provide greater protection for nature. The hoarding of resources, especially water, can generate serious conflicts among the peoples involved. Peaceful agreement about the use of resources can protect nature and, at the same time, the well-being of the societies concerned.
The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology” is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. Just as human virtues are interrelated, such that the weakening of one places others at risk, so the ecological system is based on respect for a plan that affects both the health of society and its good relationship with nature.
The foundation of these words is Jesus Christ—the Word of God, the logos of the universe, the Truth, the Life and the Way. Without Christ there is no true, lasting justice. Without His presence in prayer and in sacrament there is no reorientation of the human heart. Without Him, there are only feeble attempts to live the laws written on our hearts by God.

But as we know too well, these attempts falter under the weight of sin. Our self interest, fear, pride, lusts, gluttony, sloth, envy, anger, and greed too often prevent us from doing the very things for which Mr. Murphy pleads.

In other words, without Christ, the world is damned—socially, politically and ecologically.

Thus, Catholic ecologists have a special vocation. We must use our prophetic voices to both proclaim the crises of ecosystems and to announce the Good News with great joy that a messiah has come to restore all creation. All we need to do is listen to Him, give Him our hearts, and (as His mother admonishes us, to “do whatever He tells you.”) Only then will the necessary transformations of people and the planet take place. Only then will the great multitudes be fed and the great glory of Eden be eternally restored. Because only through Him can the human heart be made whole.

Indeed, as Benedict XVI has said elsewhere, “it is not science that redeems man; man is redeemed by love.”

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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.