Lessons from a mother in old age

Caring for Mother Earth takes on new meaning when you care for your earthly mom

They say if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. These past few months, as the Catholic Church has taken center stage in global eco-conversations, I’ve been given other concerns to tend to—which is the sort of thing God does when you think he’s preparing you for one thing but gives you something else. But I’m not about to complain. What God has placed before me is the care of my mom who increasingly suffers from Parkinson’s disease and a few other medical issues.

Odd timing, though. Edifying, too.

Having been writing and speaking on the Catholic perspective of ecology since 2004—back in the days when not many people were following the topic—I’ve been readying myself, as it were, for what Pope Francis is doing now for the Church and the world. And as if on cue, in the past year I’ve been asked to attend gatherings and give talks around the globe. But I've passed on most because my place for now is here making sure doctors’ appointments are made and kept, meals are readied, and the morning newspaper is taken in for my mom to read with her coffee.

As I attend to these personal details far from the world stage, the imagery of “Mother Earth” comes to mind—thanks especially to Pope Francis and so many others who use the term as a reference point for a significant part of being human: to have a mom that, if we’re so blessed, we get to help with the infirmities and anxieties of advanced age.

Caring for a mother in the waning years of life is indeed a way to understand what Pope Francis tells us in Laudato Si’: it's the little things that make a world of difference. Here the pontiff calls to mind one of the Church’s greatest saints:

Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms. (230)

I won’t deny that there are times when I feel envious of colleagues that travel to high-level meetings or that can spend much more time than I on the important tasks of the day.

But for now God seems to have in mind that I learn that “little way of love.”

This means, as you may have noticed, there will be times when blogging takes a hiatus so that I can attend to family (although there is lots I'll be posting about soon). Most especially it means that travel for me is a rarity and will likely become more so in the coming months and, by the grace of God, years.

And I thank God for all this. Because the lesson of Laudato Si’ is that we are called to act locally with love to tend to the needs around us. In doing so we find a peace and fulfillment that no material consumption could ever fill. And we learn humility—as well as temperance and prudence. This, it seems to me, is what it means be a Catholic ecologist.

After all, if we can’t sacrifice and care for our mom’s while they’re with us, how in God’s name can we ever hope to sacrifice and care for the peoples and ecosystems of our motherly Earth?

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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.