Today we celebrate Earth Day, a holiday that began in 1970 to promote the beauty of nature and the importance of environmental protection. It is a great opportunity for all Catholics to take some time to thank God for the gift of creation, and work toward caring for our common home.
Almost five years ago, Pope Francis released an encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. It is an excellent resource for Catholics to turn to on this Earth Day as we look for ways that we can protect the world around us.
But Pope Francis is not the first pope or bishop to teach about the environment. In honor of Earth Day, Monsignor Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your Father™, shared the Catholic perspective on the environment. He highlighted the teachings of various popes and bishops on how important it is to take care of creation.
“Our bishops have taught that good stewardship of the Earth and all its creatures, including human beings, is a complex challenge,” Msgr. Swetland said. “Humans are part of creation itself, and whatever we do to the Earth, we ultimately do to ourselves.”
“We must live in harmony with the rest of creation and preserve it for future generations,” he affirmed. “That’s been the bishop’s teaching for as long as I’ve been a Catholic. And I’ve been a Catholic now going on 40 years.”
In looking at the workings of nature it is hard to miss how interconnected all of creation is. And if we desire to love and care for all of humanity, we must love and care for all of creation as well. That is a concept that St. John Paul II talked about in his statement for the World Day of Peace in 1990.
St. John Paul II said, “I should like to address directly my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church, in order to remind them of their serious obligation to care for all of creation. The commitment of believers to a healthy environment for everyone stems directly from their belief in God the Creator, from their recognition of the effects of original and personal sin, and from the certainty of having been redeemed by Christ. Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God.”
And St. John Paul II was not the only person to consider respect for the environment to be a part of our commitment as a pro-life Church. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
“Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment, and damages society.”
In the secular world and in politics, pro-life viewpoints and pro-environment viewpoints are often pitted against each other. But Catholics don’t need to accept this false dichotomy. Catholic teaching tells us that caring for and protecting all human life and caring for and protecting the environment are both important parts of living a Christian life.
Msgr. Swetland concluded his reflection by telling listeners, “We don’t believe creation is God. We’re not pantheist. We don’t worship creation. But we recognize creation as the art of God. And we respect the Artist behind it. We know that it has its own intrinsic value and worth. And we’re for protecting that because, as Saint Paul teaches in Romans chapter 8, ‘All creation groans and is in agony awaiting the revelation of the children of God.’ The more we live a full Christian life, the more we also serve and protect the environment.”