Earth Day invites us to respect God's creation Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Apr. 22, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes by Fr. Donald Lange

On April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day was founded in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans crowded streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. Earth Day's time had come.

Earth Day offers us Catholics opportunities to reflect upon statements by recent popes and bishops regarding our moral responsibility towards creation. In his address on the World Day of Peace 2010, Pope Benedict XVI focused upon the theme "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation."

He asked, "Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, deterioration, and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, pollution of rivers and aquifers, loss of biodiversity, increase of natural catastrophes, and deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions.''

Defend all life as stewards

Pope Benedict also emphasized that a consistent Catholic environmentalism must include defense of life from conception until natural death and defense of marriage as a stable union between a man and a woman. Environmental issues have a profound impact on human rights, such as the right to life, food, health, and development.

Like Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI teaches that ecological stewardship means cultivating a heightened sense of human interdependence and solidarity. Countries must work together to solve environmental problems for the good of present and future generations.

The Genesis creation account reveals that earth and the entire web of life is a gift, created and found "very good" by God. God created us humans in the divine image to tend and care for earth as responsible stewards. We are called to cooperate with the Creator in continuing the divine work as co-conservers and co-creators of creation.

Restoring harmony in the world

The harmony between God, humankind, and creation was disrupted by the sin of Adam and Eve, who wanted to take the place of God. As a result, our work of tending and caring for earth was sometimes replaced by exploitation. Mistreating creation diminishes our dignity and sacredness. Christ came to restore harmony between humanity, the creator, and creation. The Church continues Christ's work.

In the U.S. bishops' document, Stewardship: a Disciple's Response, it says, "Ecological stewardship calls for renewed efforts to address what Pope John Paul II calls 'the structural forms of poverty' existing in this country and on the international level. It underlines the need to reduce military spending and do away with war and weapons of war." The American bishops believe that the needs of the poor and vulnerable should be at the center of climate legislation.

Some non-Catholics have applauded recent popes and bishops for statements and for the example they have given about caring for creation. During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II kissed the ground every time he visited more than 100 countries. When he did so, he showed the world his love of people and the earth. Pope Benedict XVI has stressed ecological conversion and installed solar panels in the Vatican.

The beauty of creation

Earth is our home and mother in many ways. It nourishes us physically with the bread of food, drink, air, clothing, warmth, shelter, and other basics. It nourishes our spirit with flowers and with such as the beauty of the sun, moon, stars, and other wonders of creation. The natural beauty of the Mound, where I live, points to our creator. Its beauty makes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem come alive:

Earth is crammed with heaven,/ And every common bush afire with God;/ But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,/ The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says, "The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator. We must protect the environment so that, through nature, we can continue to contemplate the mystery of God."

Adopting simpler lifestyles

In Stewardship: A Disciple's Response it says, "Stewardship of creation requires that many people adopt simpler lifestyles. As Pope John Paul II says, 'simplicity, moderation, and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.'"

Earth Day invites us to think of ways to be responsible towards creation. We can take the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor. If we are able, we can plant a tree, walk or ride a bike instead of drive, and conserve. We can teach the young to respect creation or become better informed about the Church's teaching regarding the environment.

Mistreating earth, our home and mother, diminishes our dignity and sacredness. Let us continue to respect creation so future generations may enjoy its blessings as much or more than us.

Creation is holy. When we respect creation, we respect God who created us to help to care for the gifts all creation.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.