Earth Day is about seeing creation, not nature

There’s a reminder in Laudato Si’ that we must keep front and center this Earth Day and every day

There will be lots of Earth Day events and lots of words written about them. One of the most significant happenings is the signing by a great many faith representatives of the Interfaith Climate Statement to World Leaders. The goal of this show of unity is to keep civil leaders moving forward on the promises made at COP21.

From this international blockbuster of an event to the many local trash cleanups and rallies, talks and prayer services around the world, there is a common theme that must be acknowledged and amplified. This theme was presented in pithy form by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, and I suggest we keep it front in center in our work.

We know that a lot has happened since Earth Day 2015. Think about it. In a few weeks we’ll be celebrating the one-year anniversary of the issuance of Laudato Si’. In that year many have carried its message forward on college campuses, in businesses, in parishes, and in daily life. This culminated in Paris at COP21, where the voice of the Church and of all faiths helped push those talks further than they have gone in two decades. In all, there is cautious recognition that we have begun the transition to a cleaner, carbon-free world.

But a lot more has to happen.

The transition to that cleaner, carbon-free world of our desire will require lots of small transitions on the part of businesses, governments, and consumers. Most of those transitions will have to begin in human hearts. And that’s why the Church and its worldwide parish communities and schools must help lead the way—and, of course, share the grace of God.

And this gets us to a theme that Pope Francis underscored in this remarkable passage in Laudato Si’:

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion. (LS 76)

With the modern desire to understand all things via human reason alone—thanks especially to Enlightenment thought, which jettisoned the things of God—we now have lost that ancient understanding of our world as creation, as a gift from the Father of all. It’s time we reclaim that, as Pope Francis has urged us.

This, I argue, must be a focus of our work this Earth Day and every day going forward. We must take upon us the prophetic role of helping our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors see and thus love creation rather than simply see mere nature—that is, to embrace a gift rather than resources, as well as order and consequences for violating that order, rather than a world that must adapt to individual wants.

Because by sharing this authentic view of the world—in our words and actions, most especially in how we treat the people in our lives—we will transform not just lives but choices. And choices have a way of adding up.

In the end, that will make all the difference in how we celebrate Earth Days in the years to come.

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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.