Care of Creation

Posted: 6/10/2014

As people of faith, Catholics are called to protect both vulnerable persons and the planet by living out their faith in harmony with all of God's creation

By Father Neil Pezzulo

rain water

 

As I gathered with my fellow Glenmarians for morning prayer a month ago, I noticed that the leaves on the trees outside the chapel windows were getting ready to bloom.

But then one day turned into two and two turned into three and still no flowers came forth. I was beginning to get impatient. After all, the calendar said it was spring, so I expected new life, new colors and new energy.

That experience gave me the opportunity to reflect on the entire process that springtime begins and the new creation that happens during the season. I could not help but think about the creation story from Genesis:

“‘Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear’…God called the dry land ‘the earth,’ and the basin of the water he called ‘the sea.’ God saw how good it was….” (Gn 1:9-11) “‘…See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air…, I give you all the green plants for food.’ And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gn 1:29-31)

Water is the very foundation of our lives—without it, there is no life. Since the very creation of the world. God has invited us into a covenant with creation and has used water to seal this relationship.

At the center of this covenant is our responsibility to care for creation and not destroy what God has entrusted to us. All that we need to live can be found here on Earth, and it’s up to us to use these gifts wisely and to honor our covenant with God.

Beginning with our baptism, water flows over us throughout our lives. It renew us in God’s love and reminds us of our call to honor—through all our words and deeds—all that God has given us.

Caring for creation is more than just a slogan that gets tossed around each year on April 20 (Earth Day). It is a requirement of our faith. As Catholics we are also called to reflect on how our care or lack of care for creation affects the least of our sisters and brothers—the poor and vulnerable in society (Mt 25:40). We, as people of faith, are called to protect both the vulnerable and the planet by living out our faith in harmony with all of God’s creation.

Respect for nature and respect for human life are inextricably related. “Respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human person,” St. John Paul II has written—that extends also to the rest of creation (The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility).

Just as all life is sacred, so too is the foundation of that life, which is water. It refreshes us, cleans us and sustains us both spiritually and physically. We need water to live our lives, grow our crops and build our futures.

We cannot ignore the ethical and moral dimensions of caring for the creation that surrounds us or simply shrug it off as something someone else will do. Perhaps even more dangerous is to simply not attempt to live up to our end of the covenant we share with God. But, unfortunately, that is happening in many parts of our country and our world.

In January of this year in Charleston, W.Va., a massive chemical spill in the Elk River tainted the water supply for 300,000 residents, leaving them without this life source. And as pastor of two western Arkansas missions, I saw firsthand the effects hydraulic fracturing (used to tap natural gas resources) can have on the environment and in the lives of people whose water supply has been contaminated and whose land has been damaged.

In addition, because of the continued water shortages in the western United States due to long-term drought, people are being forced to take steps to conserve this precious commodity. They can no longer shrug off their responsibility.

When we begin to see and honor the connections between our lives and actions and the world that sustains our life, we then begin to more fully live out our faith.

This issue is so important that Pope Francis brought it to our attention in his March 2013 inaugural address: “I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Pope Francis invites us to reflect on our responsibility to be protectors of creation. As a disciple of the Church, I take that invitation seriously. I can’t simply focus on environmental issues on Earth Day. I need to incorporate protection and wise, cautious use of our God-given resources into my everyday life. The implications and responsibilities of this challenge can seem overwhelming, but they are not insurmountable.   

Through sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church, all Catholics have been charged with protecting creation for future generations. This challenge has launched a prayerful discernment within me and caused me to reflect on what I can do to live out my faith more fully by helping to care for creation. (See information box below.)

It seems that when we are at the beginning of springtime, our thoughts and prayers return to creation. Perhaps it is the newness of spring and the excitement that comes with it. Or perhaps it is a result of our celebration of Lent, which leads us directly to the Resurrection—the ultimate expression of new life.

Water plays such an important part in this new life we are in the midst of celebrating. I’m inspired to help protect it.

As I continued to wait (impatiently) for spring to show itself outside the chapel windows, I was once again sitting in the chapel and I noticed it began to gently rain.

The nourishment of water was exactly what the plants needed. The next morning the trees and flowers had blossomed and the grass had turned a deep shade of green. Spring had finally arrived outside Our Lady of the Fields Chapel. The beauty of God’s creation broke through the darkness of winter. The color and new life of spring had arrived, thanks to a steady spring rain—thanks to the gift of life-giving water.

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Ways to Care for God’s Creation

•    Be mindful of unnecessary water usage.
•    Use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
•    Use earth-friendly cleaners.
•    Look for the Energy Star on new appliances.
•    Use alternate forms of transportation such as carpooling, mass transit or bicycling.
•    Plant a garden and grow extra vegetables
to donate to a food pantry or homeless shelter.
•    Hang laundry to dry instead of using an electric dryer.
•    Consume less and share more.
•    Combine car trips for errands.
•    Buy food locally.

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Father Neil Pezzulo is a member of Glenmary's Committee on the Environment and serves as first vice president on Glenmary's Executive Council.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 Glenmary Challenge.