Stewarding the earth with changing hearts

Apr 09, 2015

By Susan Gately
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” wrote the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. How true, I think while admiring the stunning beauty of a spring day in Ireland: clumps of daffodils in hedgerows, snow on the distant hills, a glorious blue sky. A shower of sleet has left behind a sparkling world.

We often hear that God created the earth and its creatures and “saw that it was good.” It was very good, indeed. It’s hard, then, to imagine that the future of our planet, of the creatures that inhabit it, might be under threat.

From the extinction of animals to concerns over pollution and global warming, there is great worry in our days over how environmental changes due to a variety of factors — pollution, waste, overconsumption — will affect us and also how it will affect developing nations.

In 2009, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued The Cry of the Earth, a reflection on climate change and a call to action. It echoed and developed ideas from what Pope Benedict XVI had said about the role of the Catholic Church, mainly that the Church “has a responsibility toward creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere.”

It is an idea rooted in the Bible. Think about it: In the Old Testament, God made human beings the stewards of creation, placing man in the Garden of Eden “to cultivate and care for it,” we’re told in Genesis. In the New Testament, Jesus constantly draws from nature with parables about the mustard seed, the sower, the birds of the air.

“Jesus was steeped in nature himself and able to see in it an image of his ministry and God’s relationship with us and ours with him,” said Irish Scripture scholar Father Martin Hogan. “He is saying nature is a sacrament of God’s presence and worthy of respect.”

The Catholic social teaching perspective on climate change recognizes that those most impacted by climate change — very poor communities living in developing countries — have done the least to cause the problem.

Lorna Gold, head of policy and advocacy, for Trocaire (the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland), said, “The ecological crisis is hitting the poorest first and hardest. The reality is that whilst the problem might present as an environmental one — the underlying issues are about justice.”

While there’s a fixed “budget” of how much carbon dioxide can be put into the atmosphere, emissions per person in a place like Ireland are 88 times those of an average Ethiopian, but the consequences of an ecological crisis brought about by the exploitation of resources will affect the amount of food someone in a poor country will receive.

The poor also will suffer other consequences of climate change, such as devastation from more extreme acts of nature, including hurricanes or typhoons, floods or droughts.

“The more we continue to use, the less they will have — and therefore the less space to increase their level of development,” said Gold. “Facing this truth is hard. Every time I get in the car to drive my children to school, I am affecting climate change that has impacts on people living on vulnerable coastlines far away and on future generations.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, recently called for a “changing of human hearts” that will help curtail human activity harmful to the environment.

Gold offered suggestions: “There are lots of things you can do — change your lifestyle to become more eco-friendly, think about how you consume and invest, build resilient local communities, campaign for change.”

Father Hogan, the Scripture scholar, said, “Creation is destined for a glorious transformation, not just humanity. Therefore it is worthy of respect now, just as we respect others and ourselves in view of our ultimate destiny.”

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