Why COP and the world need Advent

The promises of a new liturgical year offer caution and hope for international climate talks

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5

As candles of Advent wreathes are lit in Paris this year, others will continue to be lit for the dead and wounded on November 13th. Coming among all this is COP21, which has brought the world together in hopes for a brighter, cleaner future—if only nations and cultures can come to agreements that have been unreachable for decades.

This confluence of worldly matters in the City of Lights should remind us of the need for the Gospel of Life, and why, when Catholics enter the fray of eco-politics, we must not be afraid to let shine the light of Jesus Christ.

As I wrote after the Paris attacks,

the seemingly disparate issues of anthropogenic climate change and extremist violence are rooted in the same soil. In their own ways, both result from man’s denial of the laws of God—both the laws of nature and the natural laws that direct us toward the self-sacrifice of the Cross. Denying who we are—that is, made in the image and likeness of the Triune God that is love—results from and deepens our wounds. Thus blinded and butchered, we seek power and pleasure as we fall victim to the temptations and lies of our ancient enemy, who revels as we poison God's creation and slaughter each other.

Broken promises

Take, for instance, the recent report “Who Watches the Watchmen? Auditors and the breakdown of oversight in the RSPO.”

“There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself,” Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (118).

The 23-page document by Grassroots and the Environmental Investigation Agency examines failures to regulate the lucrative palm-oil industry, and thus serves as an example of how difficult it is in our fallen world to protect creation from ourselves.

The report finds that,

[n]ot only are [the auditors] conducting woefully substandard assessments but the evidence indicates that in some cases they are colluding with plantation companies to disguise violations of the [Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil] Standard. The systems put in place to monitor these auditors have utterly failed. The consequences of these failings are severe. The destruction of forests and biodiversity, entrenched social conflicts, human trafficking and death threats against environmental defenders are all able to persist because of a dereliction of duty by auditors and the RSPO.

The findings are worth reading and sharing. They offer a cautionary tale for those of us hoping that the international community develops agreements and systems to reign in the use of fossil fuels.

And so the concern: even if COP21 ends in binding climate agreements—which includes reigning in the use of lucrative fossil fuels—what happens next could spell disaster. Agreements achieve very little without a wider moral foundation upon which standards and best practices are met even when no one is watching.

The papal response

“There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself,” Pope Francis tells us in Laudato Si’ (118).

“Yet all is not lost,” the Holy Father says further along.

Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. (LS 205)

As for a way forward, Pope Francis says that

[t]he best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality. (LS 75)

This God-centered approach to human development is central to what Pope Francis is saying to us, again and again. Speaking to Ugandan youth earlier today, the pontiff urged them—and really, all of us—to stand firm in the light that is Christ. And to share His light and His grace with the world.

What would be the Uganda martyrs’ reaction to the growth of greed and corruption in our midst? Surely they would appeal to you to be model Christians, confident that your love of Christ, your fidelity to the Gospel, and your wise use of your God-given gifts can only enrich, purify and elevate the life of this country. They continue to show you the way. Do not be afraid to let the light of your faith shine in your families, your schools and your places of work. Do not be afraid to enter into dialogue humbly with others who may see things differently.

These are good words to usher Catholic ecologists and climate activists into Advent … and all of us into COP21.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

As the great Advent hymn reminds us, in Advent we seek and prepare for the Lord that will “ransom captive Israel,” which, in a universal light, means freeing all of us from the captivity of sin that corrupts our hearts, economies, and governments—even the creation and enforcement of our international agreements.

Indeed, even the best possible climate agreement coming from COP21 will fail in a world weighted down by sin. More than ever, then, we need the light and grace of Jesus Christ, who alone takes away the sins of the world.

And so … on to Advent.

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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.