A Lenten fast, from carbon and from pride

Our eco-inspired Lenten practices can save souls and eco systems

With the dawn of the great Season of Lent comes sacrifices of the things we love best. This year, why not try to add fossil fuels to the mix?

The concept of carbon fasting is not all that new, and many Christians have long embraced the practice every Lent and throughout the year.

Two years ago, the Global Catholic Climate Movement began an eco-fasting campaign on a global scale, with the suggestion that carbon be one of our targeted physical sacrifices.

This year the Catholic momentum around carbon fasting continues to build, most notably in the Archdiocese of Bombay.

The goal in all this is, of course, two-fold. Lenten sacrifices help us build our spiritual stamina to refrain from the desires of the world—not out of some gnostic hatred of creation, but out of a desire to align our wills with something other than our wants.

In doing so we can more easily embrace the second, most important reason for sacrifice: it’s good for the soul’s journey back to God.

Fasting from carbon adds a modern twist. Cutting back on our use of fossil fuels reminds us of just how dependent we are on this buried organic material, and it shows us that we really can reign in our eco-footprints. Fossil fuels, after all, come with polluting side effects in their extraction and processing, and unwanted byproducts in their use, most especially sizeable and long-lasting additions to our atmosphere of carbon dioxide—that heat-trapping gas that fuels global warming. Our efforts at controlling how much of the stuff we use, burn, and emit can further empower us to do even more to reign in our wants and lighten our demands on the resources of nature.

A word of caution, however.

Holy Mother Church offers us on Ash Wednesday that moment in Matthew’s Gospel in which Christ warns the pious to keep one's spiritual practices in the spiritual realm, and not make such a big deal of it all.

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.


"When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."

In other words, we Catholic ecologists have a duty to protect creation, to sacrifice for the good of our souls and for the wellbeing of others, and to do it all without shining spotlights on what we’re doing.

That puts us in a dilemma. Sharing and encouraging others to look anew at how we and they approach sacrifices leads to great goods—eco and otherwise.

We just have to be mindful of our interior motives.

But then, that’s one of the great lessons of Lent. In our fasts, not only do we control our physical appetites, thanks to the grace of temperance—and thus better control our physical impacts on God’s creation—we also grow in that other virtue, humility, that we are called to adopt as together we repent and embrace the much-needed, much-forgotten gospel of life.

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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.