Editor’s note: I’m grateful to Marybeth Lorbiecki, the author of Following St. Francis: John Paul II’s Call for Ecological Action for today’s contribution. Pope Francis’ recent comments on care for the poor and for creation beckon all of us into a close consideration of how we can be good stewards of our gifts. I appreciate Marybeth’s encouragement that each of us can play a part in this mission. Lisa
Life is a talent entrusted to us so
That we can transform it and increase it,
Making it a gift to others.
No person is an iceberg drifting on the ocean of history.
Each one of us belongs to a great family,
In which he has his or her own place and role to play
Selfishness makes people deaf and dumb;
Love opens eyes and ears,
Enabling people to make that original and irreplaceable contribution,
Which together with thousands of deeds of so many brothers and sisters,
Often distant and unknown,
Converges to form the mosaic of charity,
That can change the tide of history.
St. John Paul II, 11th World Youth Day, November 25, 1995
The other day, I was talking to my daughter about college and she retorted, “What’s the point? We probably won’t even have a planet soon.” At the same time, I teach confirmation and hear comments like “My parents are forcing me to come here because they want me to be Christian” and “the Church doesn’t care about us – the sermons make no sense and look at the bishops and all their cover ups.”
As a mom, their words kill me because they are telling the truth. This, their world, is crumbling apart at its seams. How I longed when they were little of offering them a better world, a better Church. Every newscast seems to tell of more ugly things done by clergy and bishops in the parishes and diocese near us, and my own parish is still recovering from our own tragedies and scandals. Meanwhile, through my work at the Interfaith Ocean Ethics Campaign, I have talked to leaders from islands whose homes are already overcome by the rising seas due to climate changes. The scientific reports are not exaggerating. Even Audubon has just published their findings about how climate changes are affecting our beloved birds. Paralleling these problems are the layoffs and recession woes. College students, low-wage workers and middle class families are drowning in debt while bankers and stockbrokers and corporate executives are drowning in excess. Suicide rates among young people are rising, tripling in the last half century.
Yet, like St. John Paul II said, behind the scenes of all problems are reasons for hope –challenges that offer opportunities to us as individuals, families, and communities of faith to re-evaluate our priorities and work for restoration of the good, the true, the life-giving – the service to God and our neighbor. People all around our nation and the world are sacrificing and serving to try to turn these situations around, working in nonprofits, government agencies, scientific circles, faith communities, and homes.
For more than 25 years, St. John Paul II worked to alert the world of climate change and all the other ecological ills that humans were in part responsible for. He asked us to recognize that we are all connected in the family of life, and that God called us to care for this world and all its species, not to destroy them for our own short-termed selfish uses. He also taught the world that the poor are always the first, hardest, and most unrelentingly harmed by environmental destruction, so when we are caring for the environment, we are caring for the poor. And when we are not, we are making their suffering worse.
He called us all to remember that we each have an inherent “ecological vocation” as children of God and that we must undergo an “ecological conversion” to work for “Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation.” He begged us to begin acting to with a respect for all of life to save this “beautiful, endangered world.” But on all counts, he was largely ignored by the world and the Church itself.
Even so, Pope Benedict followed his footsteps, even attaching solar panels to the Vatican. When our current Holy Father was asked why he chose his name after St. Francis of Assisi, he said, “ For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these day we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?” Then at his first papal Mass, he asked us to care for all of creation like St. Joseph cared for and protected Mary and Jesus. It is said that he will soon be issuing an encyclical on the care of creation.
So how do we respond as Catholic moms? I have come to conclude we can’t do everything, but we can do something. We can show up to the realities and not close our eyes and ears, acting as if the creation is a political issue, rather than one of faith. Then we can do the first thing at hand that can make a small difference, and teach our children to do the same. Then we can do the next thing, and the next, and the next, whatever is in reach, knowing humbly that we are small but significant parts of a larger story, a larger team project, a universal one. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. “
So maybe you can grow a garden, or car pool, or turn off the lights, or recycle, or vote for environmental projections, or watch the seafood you eat, or avoid disposable plastics, or organize your church to do a Bible study on the care of creation, or do a parish energy audit, or put up solar panels on the roof. Or all of these things and more – one at a time, by yourself and as a family, and a parish, each done with prayer asking for guidance, perseverance, hope, and joy, so we can pass these along as well. As St. John Paul II said:
It is not too late.
God’s world has incredible healing powers.
Within a single generation
We could steer the earth toward our children’s future.
Let that generation start now,
With God’s help and blessing.
Marybeth Lorbiecki is the author of Following St. Francis: John Paul II’s Call for Ecological Action (Rizzoli, 2014) and numerous other books, especially those for children (www.marybethlorbiecki.com0. She is also the director of the Interfaith Ocean Ethics Campaign (www.oceanethicscampaign.org — www.facebook.com/interfaithoceancampaign) , which is a joint program of the Franciscan Action Network and National Religious Coalition on Creation Care. She’s also a wife and mom of their incredible young people.
Copyright 2015 Marybeth Lorbiecki
Marybeth Lorbiecki provides advice and encouragement for Catholic families desiring to be good stewards of God’s creation.