October 21, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Care for creation: a moral issue of our time

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

My columns over the last several weeks have been focused on issues that we, as Catholics and as faithful citizens, need to consider as we prepare to choose candidates for federal, state and local offices. No one who cares about the future of our nation, our state or our local communities can afford to “sit this one out,” no matter how distasteful individual choices may appear to be. We must examine our consciences, scrutinize the candidates and their proposed policies, and then vote—trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in our world influencing all things for the good.

Of course, we know that the Evil One is also working hard to tear down what we hope to build up. But God’s power is infinitely greater, and our faith tells us that good will triumph in the end. Such optimism does not absolve us of our responsibilities, but it does assure us that God is with us every step of the way!

One of the serious issues we must all consider is care for creation, the impact of political and economic decisions on the environment. As the bishops of the United States say in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” “Care for creation is a moral issue. Protecting the land, water, and air we share is a religious duty of stewardship and reflects our responsibility to born and unborn children, who are most vulnerable to environmental assault. We must answer the question that Pope Francis posed to the world: ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ ” (#86, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,”#160).

As with most issues that are being discussed in this election season, what we Catholics call “care for creation” has become polarized. Those who are against more regulations fear that environmentalism is just an excuse for increased government intrusion into the lives of individuals and communities.

On the other hand, those who are genuinely concerned about abusive treatment of our air, water, land and mineral resources look first to science to determine the causes of and the solutions to any environmental concerns, and then to government officials to effectively safeguard these great gifts for the sake of humanity’s future.

Note that “our responsibility to born and unborn children, who are most vulnerable to environmental assault,” is intimately connected to our stewardship of creation. The care that we are morally obligated to provide extends far beyond protecting our physical environment—as important as this is. Our stewardship must be all-inclusive. Everything that God has made is a gift to be cherished, nurtured and safeguarded out of respect for the One who has so generously shared his abundance with us, his children.

Following Pope Francis’s lead, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “offers a distinctive call to seriously address global climate change, focusing on the virtue of prudence, pursuit of the common good, and the impact on the poor, particularly on vulnerable workers and the poorest nations” (#86). We bishops believe that our nation should lead in contributing to the sustainable development of poorer nations and promoting greater justice in sharing the burden of environmental blight, neglect and recovery.

At the same time, our nation’s efforts to reduce poverty should not be associated with demeaning and sometimes coercive population-control programs. Such an approach is condemned by Pope Francis and all who truly respect the dignity of all God’s creation.

“To blame population growth, instead of an extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption” (#86).

We must acknowledge the scandalous truth that approximately one-third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor” (“ ‘Laudato Si,’ ”#50). Our efforts should, instead, focus on working with the poor here at home and throughout the world to help them build a future of hope and opportunity for themselves and their children.

Care for creation is a moral issue that deserves our particular attention during this election season. Which candidates and political parties can be counted on to truly care for the environment in a holistic way? May the Holy Spirit guide us as we search for wisdom and prudence in this vitally important aspect of faithful citizenship! †

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