In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us that we need to exercise greater personal responsibility for how our everyday actions affect the Earth and her inhabitants. “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change,” he writes. (202) It’s true that all of us have a responsibility to take action.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The theme for 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenges — but also the vast opportunities — relating to climate change have distinguished taking and inspiring action as the most pressing issue.
For me, climate action has always been an action of faith.
Almost five years ago, I encountered amazing grace and came back to the Catholic Church after years of not practicing any faith.
Naturally, I needed to grow in faith so I turned to the latest papal encyclical, which had just come out a few months prior to my conversion, Laudato Si’. Pope Francis widened my understanding of what it means to care for creation — that it’s not a “social issue,” but actually a matter of faith.
“A healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change,” he explains. (218)
Archbishop Vigneron writes in the Unleash the Gospel Pastoral Letter, “An encounter with Jesus is a moment in our lives that has such impact it causes us to change how we live. Once we have encountered Christ, from that point forward we are either all in or all out.”
After reading Laudato Si’, I knew that if I was going to be “all in” with my faith and commit to being a joyful missionary disciple, I needed to incorporate lifestyle changes to better care for creation as an essential part of my commitment.
The first and most radical change I made was switching to a plant-based diet because as I began to research how to implement a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle, I realized what an enormous impact the animal agriculture industry has on the environment. This lifestyle change was instant and all-in — I immediately cut all meat and dairy from my diet.
Other Laudato Si’-inspired changes were more gradual, like reducing overall waste by investing in reusable and/or biodegradable household items and being more intentional about disposal to better support effective recycling programs.
I would never suggest that to be a faithful Catholic you need to be vegan or that buying a bottle of water is a sin. But I think it’s clear that our faith requires a lifestyle that is intentional about reducing environmental impact, including in our shopping habits.
Pope Francis explains, “A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. Purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act. Today, in a word, the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle.” (206)
We are all called to make environmentally-conscious lifestyle choices as faith-inspired action.
The USCCB has shared, “Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.”
And while care for creation is not a call to action reserved for April 22 each year, Earth Day is the perfect day to take the first step. No matter who you are and what your circumstances are, there are ways you can make a difference.
I’ll end with sharing a prayer because, even if you feel like you cannot yet take action out in the world, you can always start with prayer.
A prayer for our earth (Pope Francis, 2015)
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.