To care for creation and make it flourish

There are good reasons Christians ought to care for the environment and adopt its well-being as a matter of genuine concern.

Apr 09, 2015

By David Gibson
There are good reasons Christians ought to care for the environment and adopt its well-being as a matter of genuine concern. But Christian concern for the environment is not restricted to caring about creation in a more-or-less abstract manner, wishing well to the world in all its beauty and fertility or simply professing good intentions.

In the mind of Pope Francis, caring for creation first of all means acting to “safeguard” it and “make it flourish.” In a Feb. 9 homily, he said not only that God’s creation “was born from love” but that God now works within creation “through love.” This is the context for grasping what it means to make creation flourish.

It is essential to approach creation “with the responsibility the Lord gives us,” the Lord who insists that the earth is ours, that we ought to “foster it” and “make it grow,” Pope Francis said. However, it is necessary to recognize that “we are lords of creation, not masters,” and that our role is not to “take control of creation but to foster it.”

Christians indeed have good reasons to care for the environment, but not because they are members of this or that political party or social movement, Pope Francis made clear.

Today, issues surrounding discussions of the planet’s future so often are politicized that it can be difficult to think of them in any other way. But for the Pope these issues are better viewed from a faith perspective.

“A Christian who does not safeguard creation, who does not make it flourish, is a Christian who is not concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us,” the Pope emphasized. It is not because we are “green” that we provide care for the environment, but because “this is Christian,” he said.

Pope Francis is about to publish an encyclical on the environment, according to Vatican officials. For any pope an encyclical is a major document, an expression of faith convictions likely to be read, studied and analyzed for decades. Because of this, many observers are curious to know what Pope Francis hopes to contribute to current discussions on the environment.

It is safe to predict that because of the forthcoming encyclical’s topic, editorials and commentaries debating its merits will appear in influential newspapers and magazines. TV talk shows and online blogs also will dissect its content.

Some commentators surely will criticize the pope’s text, holding that the scientific and economic issues basic to care for the environment exceed his technical competence as a church leader, though he is unlikely to claim scientific or economic expertise. Others will praise the pope for raising awareness of the crucial interrelationship of human dignity, concern for society’s common good and care for the environment.

Perhaps the pope previewed the coming encyclical in his Feb. 9 homily. But a more far-reaching preview appeared March 5 when Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, delivered a speech at Ireland’s national seminary and pontifical university in Maynooth.

Today, the cardinal commented, threats arising “from global inequality and the destruction of the environment are interrelated, and they are the greatest threats we face as a human family.” In light of this, the encyclical “will explore the relationship between care for creation, integral human development and concern for the poor.” The encyclical has “human ecology” as its theme, the cardinal added.

The pope’s approach — accenting protection of the environment, respect for all God’s creatures, “showing loving concern for each and every person” and “caring for one another” — does not reflect “some narrow agenda for the greening (of) the church or the world,” Cardinal Turkson pointed out. Instead, “it is a vision of care and protection that embraces the human person and the human environment in all possible dimensions.”

The pope hopes with this encyclical not to make “some political comment about the relative merits of capitalism and communism,” but to restate “ancient biblical teaching,” said Cardinal Turkson.

So, yes, the Pope will add something to the conversation about “the precarious state of our planet and of the poor,” the cardinal said. To this conversation the pope will add “the particular perspective of Catholic social thought.”

For Pope Francis, “being a protector of creation, of the poor, of the dignity of every human person is a sine qua non of being Christian, of being fully human,” Cardinal Turkson observed.

It is well-known that Pope Francis looks to St. Francis of Assisi as a model. Actually, the saint is a model for anyone concerned about the environment and helps to explain what the Church is able to bring to these discussions.

“When St. Francis gazed upon the heavens, when he surveyed the wonder and beauty of the animals, he did not respond to them with the abstract formulas of science or the utilitarian eye of the economist,” said Cardinal Turkson.

Rather, the saint’s response “was one of awe, wonder and fraternity. He sang of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”

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