“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now…”, writes Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si’ (161).
“Because the earth and its resources are God’s gift to all humanity”, You Are Sent also calls us “to be reverent, just, and sparing in our use of created things, concerned for the needs of present and future generations” (GD 19). Therefore, it is essential: to think responsibly about what in our everyday live and experience blocks reverence and care for creation; to act from an inner conviction; and to develop a conscious outlook that extends beyond the boundaries of our local lives and countries and “hears both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato si’ 49).
Call to Prayer
Almighty God, grant us that “ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life” (Laudato si’ 207).
Our communities living in the different parts of the world experience different dimensions of the ecological crisis. In each place, each of us is called to discern its implications for our lives.
Those of us living in developed countries are used to and find it natural to turn on the tap with a simple movement, and water flows from it, clean water; we switch on the lights with a simple movement and the place becomes bright; we turn on the computer with a simple movement and can start working or surfing the internet immediately; with a simple movement we can charge our phone and make it usable again. If we want to go somewhere we simply sit in one of our cars. And if something does not work that simply, perhaps we even get annoyed. But the price of all this is that people living on the other side of the world “are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out” (Laudato si’ 90, and cf. 50).
Here is a little data: according to the 2017 joint report by WHO and UNICEF, one third of the world’s population (that is 2.1 billion people) lack access to safe drinking water, and more than half (about 4.5 billion people) lack safely managed sanitation at or near their homes. About 1 billion people worldwide have no access to power at all.
Those of us living in post-communist countries have seen that the long-wished for welfare has not solved all our problems; moreover, it has brought new problems. It could be our historical mission to show with our lives how to avoid the traps others seem to have already fallen into.
For people living in developing countries – in dialogue and relying on the wisdom of local communities and the universal experience of the Church – it could be important to become advocates of an alternative attitude to life which is based on love and sharing.
“Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made…”, says Pope Francis in Laudato si’ (114). And indeed, it is important to separate in our personal lives what are our basic needs and therefore part of our human dignity, and what is compulsive consumption. If the level of our consumption is far beyond the sustainability level of the world, then we should consider whether our consumer demands are really essential to our lives. For we can make decisions about our consumption freely, according to the voice of our conscience. And when we consciously let go of unsustainable consumption, we do not limit the quality of our life; on the contrary, we deepen it (Cf. Laudato si’ 223).
You Are Sent reminds us: “At the deepest core of our being we find a desire and need to be for others. Our constitution calls us to be deeply inserted in our world, to address its basic needs, and to lay down our lives that others may live.” (Prologue)
- Let us take some time to separate our needs and our compulsive consumption, and consider how we can “lay down our lives that others may live”
- Lent starts this month, on February 14. Let us consider the message Pope Francis wrote for September 1, 2016:
- “Let us learn to implore God’s mercy for those sins against creation that we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed. Let us likewise commit ourselves to taking concrete steps towards ecological conversion…”
- Let us acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.”
- Let us keep a “green” lent: let us set achievable personal goals through which we can promote care of creation,
- e.g., consider whether we really need to use our car in a particular situation, or how much water and light we really need for a particular activity.
Almighty God, help us to be able to look beyond ourselves to the needs of the universal church and the world community. Because the earth and its resources are your gift to all humanity, help us to be reverent, just, and sparing in our use of created things, concerned for the needs of present and future generations. Grant us courage to act justly in order to confront injustice credibly and make us willing to lay down our lives that others may live. (Cf. YAS Prologue, C17, GD 2, 19)
Prepared by Erős M. Renáta SSND, Hungary for the International Shalom Office, Rome, Italy
Graphic taken from the Directional Statement, 24th General Chapter. Design: Congregational Communications Office.