In his new encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis reminds us that we are to be good stewards of these gifts. Proper care for God’s creation is an important biblical value that other popes, including St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have emphasized.
It also is part of our rural tradition here in the Diocese of St. Cloud. In his 1995 pastoral reflection “Agriculture with a Human Face,” the late Bishop George Speltz wrote that every generation is called upon “not only to harvest the fruits of the earth, but to take care of the earth, to live in harmony with it, and to share its wealth with all the people even, according to Native American tradition, onto the ‘seventh generation.’”
But oftentimes we fail as individuals and as a society to be good stewards of God’s creation, and sometimes a complex combination of factors lead to environmental challenges that demand serious and immediate attention. One of these challenges that Pope Francis identifies is climate change: The best scientific evidence we have indicates that it is indeed happening, and its effects are being felt in various ways around the world, especially by the poor.
I saw the impact of climate change firsthand when I was bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska. In the small village of Newtok, home to the native Yup’ik people, climate change has resulted in a diminished winter ice pack, which is causing river erosion that threatens the village’s survival. The people, who have lived there for countless generations, must now relocate.
While scientists may continue to debate the underlying reasons for climate change, it would be imprudent for us as a Church not to act on this issue in light of the threat it poses to poor and vulnerable populations around the world and to future generations.
Responsibly caring for God’s creation is ultimately a moral issue — one rooted in the Church’s concern for human life and dignity and the common good. In his letter, Pope Francis talks about the problems of overconsumption, wastefulness and our throwaway culture — one that fails to recognize the value of God’s material gifts as well as the gift of the human person. A society that ignores the poor and the immigrant, that allows abortion, assisted-suicide and other attacks on human life, fails to understand how our world’s natural ecology is linked to human ecology. In other words, how we treat one another is an indication of how we treat the natural world.
Our Catholic understanding of this connection — guided by our Church’s teaching on human life, solidarity and the common good — brings a much-needed perspective to the conversation about caring for the earth.
Building a culture of stewardship isn’t just about what policies governments adopt nationally and internationally, as important and necessary as they are. It’s also about us — what you and I do right now in our lives to be better stewards of God’s creation, a creation that includes each one of us as a reflection of the image and likeness of God.
We must resist the throwaway culture. We must be better stewards of our natural resources and stronger promoters of a culture of life. And, we must bring our Catholic perspectives to the public square, always articulating our views with love and civility.
Now is the time to act and work together on behalf of a culture of stewardship for God’s creation — for our sake, and for the sake of our children, grandchildren and future generations.
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of St. Cloud