There's a good chance that the topic of Pope Francis’s new apostolic exhortation on climate change, Laudate Deum, might come up at work, home, or when out with friends. If so, how can you use opportunities like this to share the theological reasons why the Church routinely engages ecological issues, as well as why Catholics often appreciate speaking in terms of both faith and reason?
To help, here are six statements to throw into the mix (and reasons why you should). I prepared them for the 2015 release of the Holy Father's eco-encyclical Laudato Si', but they're relevant for use whenever eco-issues come up.
And they're updated for use today.
- “It’s wonderful how Pope Francis is in continuity with his predecessors.” You may want to say this if anyone says that Pope Francis is “finally” bringing the Church into the world of environmental protection. Or conversely if anyone might find such eco-statements to be unhelpful or too worldly. After all, it's not always common knowledge that as far back as John XXIII, popes have been concerned about ecological issues. And many may not know that Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI planted environmental protection firmly in the life of the Church with many definitive writings. The bottom line is that it’s all about continuity.
- “The Sacramental life of the Church makes it pro-creation!” This one is simple: Catholics teach that God uses created realities such as bread, wine, water, oil, and even human conversation to allow seven special encounters with Him. In other words, the Sacraments imply that God considers His creation to hold some innate dignity and is worthy of taking a role in offering His grace to fallen humanity.
- “’The Word became flesh’ itself implies that ‘creation is good!’” This one is even simpler. The Gospels are startling historical statements that God entered history as a human being—as an embryo, then taking the normal series of events to enter the world stage. Luke and Matthew look at this from the perspective of human reality. John’s Gospel looks at it from the vantage of the divine (“The Word became flesh,” we read in John 1:14). In any event, if God thinks this much of humanity—to enter history with a body made of water, minerals, etc.—then chances are He thinks creation is worth His time.
- “It’s amazing how revolutionary Genesis was.” We don’t often consider how different the creation accounts of Genesis were back in the day. After all, more powerful neighbors of what would become the Nation of Israel—nations such as the Babylonians and Assyrians—had creation myths, too. But those myths presumed that evil was inherent in the natural order—that their gods warred with each other before the creation of the heavens and the earth. (It's a long story involving things like a sea monster cut in two. You can read a bit more here about what is really a fascinating contrast in worldviews.) In any event, God’s revelation in Genesis that creation is ordered and “very good” is a radical statement that survives with us today. Babylonian and Assyrian creation accounts did not. We only rediscovered them buried in the sands of the Middle East just over a century ago.
- “It’s a good thing the early Church defended the goodness of creation.” Following what had been revealed to the world through Genesis—and what’s mentioned above about Christ and the Sacraments—the early Church fought many in the ancient world who saw the created order as evil, and who argued that we need some sort of secret, spiritual enlightenment to escape it. Some in the early Church even went so far as to champion the rejection of the Old Testament, with its Creator God that, they thought, must be evil for creating an evil world. But the early Church fiercely defended the goodness of creation, which is a central revelation in the opening of Genesis. In doing so the Church brought to Western Civilization the notion that creation is something worth understanding and protecting.
- “It’s not human activity that causes environmental destruction. It’s human activity tainted by sin.” Save this for anyone who may say that being an environmentalist means you must be anti-business, or if someone uses environmental protection to defend their anti-business agenda. It’s not human economic systems that abuse the planet. It’s the greed and indifference of we fallen human beings that allow economic systems to operate without care for our neighbors or the ecosystems of the world. The ecological crises of our day are symptoms of sin. If we would live in accord with God’s laws of love—if we would give ourselves over to and be transformed by Christ—than in our daily business practices we would never harm the poor or the planet that we all live on.
So, there you have it. Whenever the Holy Father or bishops speak about ecology, discussions ensue that may not always be rooted in charity or sound doctrine. This makes your presence in the world an opportunity to sow unity, bring wisdom, and share the Church’s ancient appreciation of God’s most wonderful creation.