The Culture of Care

Posted: 6/8/2016

By Father Neil Pezzulo

In his historic address to Congress last fall, Pope Francis called us to “redirect our steps…now is the time for courageous actions and strategies aimed at implementing a culture of care.” This phrase caught my attention and my imagination.

A “culture of care” strikes me as being integral to our faith lives, like the culture of life to which St. John Paul II called us almost a generation ago.

After spending time reflecting on both the culture of care and the culture of life, I better understand how intimately and integrally they are connected. Honestly, I struggle to separate the two. Without care/stewardship as a primary response to creation, we will not have life. Actually, after reflecting, I have come to see them as interchangeable at times.

Even though it has been a long-held teaching of our Church that we should care for God’s creation as stewards and not as conquerors, the topic is not spoken about often or freely among my fellow disciples. This area of our faith is often misunderstood.

From the encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of  Peoples) by Pope Paul VI, 1967:
Already on the first page of Sacred Scripture we read these words: ‘Fill the earth and subdue it.’ (Gn 1:28) By these words we are taught that all things of the world have been created for man, and that this task has been entrusted to him to enhance their value by the resources of his intellect, and by his toil to complete and perfect them for his own use.

“Now if the earth has been created for the purpose of furnishing individuals either with the necessities of a livelihood or the means for progress, it follows that each man has the right to get from it what is necessary for him.

“The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council has reminded us of this in these words: ‘God destined the earth with all that it contains for the use of all men and nations, in such a way that created things in fair share should accrue to all men under the leadership of justice with charity as a companion.” (#22)

How unfortunate that we as disciples do not speak more often, even passionately, about the culture of care in the same way we speak openly and passionately about the culture of life.

As someone who believes, as a tenet of my faith, that I am called to protect and steward creation as both a legacy from my ancestors and an inheritance for the next generation, I am always confused by the sometime total disregard for stewardship I witness on both a large and small scale.

An understanding that we can simply use the Earth as if it is a commodity to be bought and sold at the whim of an individual is not and never has been our Catholic understanding of the world.

I have come to realize as a fruit of my reflections that as one person, I must use what influence I have to cooperate with and protect nature. Even though my influence may be limited, it is not irrelevant. I may not be able to singlehandedly change a corporate or government policy that is contrary to a culture of care of creation and a culture of life, but I can exercise my influence as a disciple.

I, as a disciple, can take responsibility for my portion of the world and attempt to live out my discipleship in an ecologically responsible manner. Yet I do not take these steps in a vacuum. I live in a crowded world that I must engage respectfully and prayerfully, always remembering “how everything is interconnected…part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, #138)

In the same prophetic encyclical Laudato Si, released in June 2015, Pope Francis also reminded us that:
“When we speak of the ‘environment,’ what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it, and thus in constant interaction with it.” (#139)

My life as a disciple is interconnected with the entire web of creation. This includes being interconnected both with my fellow disciples and with the world as I experience it. This interconnectedness is at the core of my understanding as a Catholic that we are all in this together. It’s a relationship that requires time and attention.

Pope Francis offers me hope and solace that I’m not in this alone. I and all other human beings have received the call to care of creation and life.

With this confidence that I am not alone, I can use the world’s resources responsibly, using only what I need (which is often at odds with what I want). I can make decisions that put my thoughts, actions and prayers at the service of the culture of care and the culture of life—and not at the service of the culture of Neil.

I can remember the relationship that exists between nature and society and can remember that I am not separate from any of these realities. I find myself at the crossroads of nature and society, and with this honored position I cannot be passive.
It’s an interesting  challenge we have before us: not to be passive, but to be engaged with and energized by both a culture of care and a culture of life.

As God’s people, we can enter into a respectful conversation about what it means to be good stewards of creation, in joyful appreciation of the God-given beauty and wonder of nature. And we can answer our call to stewardship by developing a culture of care of creation and life, by respecting all human life, and by protecting and preserving the Earth.

Over the past couple of days, the buds on the trees have begun to burst out, giving new life and new hope to the season. The grass is turning green, and I can hear birds chirping and the distant sound of lawnmowers in the neighborhood behind my house. 

Spring is here, and all creation is singing with joy. The time has come to pray, to reflect and to take action. The time has come to appreciate the gift that comes to us from God in the interconnectedness of all of creation.

The time has come to imagine what life could be like if we all adopted a culture of care and a culture of life.