Concern for the environment has been expressed by all recent popes and has been explicitly included in the Church’s social teaching because abuse of our natural resources has become so serious in modern times. The Church’s concern stems from our recognition that all creation is God’s gift to humankind — to be cherished, nurtured, developed and used wisely for the good of all and with profound respect for “the beauty of the created world.”
In publishing his encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis joined recent popes and bishops in calling attention to care for our environment.
All creation comes from God and is good — the material world, all plants and animals, and especially the first man and woman who are created in His divine image. The stewardship responsibility given to our first parents was to “name” everything, which means to understand and give expression to its nature and purpose (cf. Gn 2:19-20). God also commanded that our first parents “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gn 9:1). They were to be the guardians of the earthly paradise that God created out of sheer love and goodness for our benefit. That original paradise was lost — temporarily — as a consequence of sin. Thank God it has been restored by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and is now an essential element of Christian hope.
We are called to care for the environment (especially air, water, land and the minerals, plants and animals that make up this wonderful planet — and whatever lies beyond!) As people of faith, we believe that the entire universe exists as a result of God’s wise and loving design. Nothing that exists is here by accident. Nothing that God made is inherently evil. All creation is good, and everything that exists is our responsibility — to cherish, nurture, cultivate and generously share.
Pope Francis challenges us to be protectors of all creation, to be stewards of all God’s gifts. We begin to exercise this responsibility when we defend human life — especially the unborn and the vulnerable. When we affirm the sacredness of all human life, we acknowledge God’s plan for each human being, and we work to defend the gift of life from every form of abuse. Similarly, when we affirm that everything God made is good and worthy of our reverence and respect, we look differently on all God’s creation.
Another Francis, our current pope’s namesake, taught with his whole life the meaning of stewardship of God’s creation. He did not regard the sun, moon or stars as distant objects in outer space. He refused to consider minerals, plants and animals as “things” to be used and then discarded by us. He called everything created by God his sisters and brothers. He embraced all God’s creatures with love, friendship and reverence.
As stewards of creation, we are called to show reverence and respect for every good thing created by our good and gracious God. May we always cherish and protect God’s abundant gifts.
Dan Conway is a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.