Want to protect the environment? —Start with God’s finest creation…
(CUSA) – If the human being is not our primary concern then everything that cannot love—the earth and all of its resources—become more important. Such an attitude justifies the destruction of human life and genuine human love.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the opening Mass of the “Conference on Human and Natural Ecology: Economic, Political and Cultural Implications.” The conference took place at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and was sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Mass was celebrated June 3, 2015.
ARCHBISHOP THOMAS WENSKI—
They teach politicians — and even bishops — that when dealing with the press not to answer the question you were asked but the question that you wanted to be asked. The Gospel doesn’t present us with Jesus taking questions from the press; but he did take questions from a lot of different people.
In yesterday’s Gospel reading, he was asked by the Pharisees about paying taxes to Caesar; in today’s reading, he was asked a quite different question by the Saducees. In any case, how Jesus answered these questions was quite remarkable.
When challenged — and he was being challenged (these were not friendly questions) — Jesus doesn’t merely answer these loaded questions, he does so in a way that disarms them and unveils their intent. He exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees; and he basically tells the Saducees that their Scripture scholarship needs more than a bit of remedial work.
To engage in the public square today is to enter onto a minefield of loaded questions — and like the loaded questions Jesus faced, one can find behind them, at least in some cases, examples of hypocrisy and/or faulty scholarship. Such is the case when ideology and not the search for truth is allowed to determine the contours of the debate.
But, in spite of this, the Church does weigh in on a variety of issues that do touch upon the human person, the dignity of the human person and the conditions necessary for human flourishing.
We do believe that we have something to say, a “Word” to share, namely Jesus Christ — the human face of God and the divine face of mankind. Of course, our weighing in does put us in the middle of a minefield, and whereas the Pharisees and Saducees failed at discrediting Jesus, some fear (and others hope) that our foes will succeed in discrediting the Church and her teachings.
We live in interesting times — this month Pope Francis will give us his encyclical on ecology and the Supreme Court will hand down its decision on same sex marriage. So whether we like it or not, our earthly pilgrimage passes through the middle of a minefield.
We will have the opportunity, and to be sure, the duty, to engage the world and witness to our teachings, to our vision of the human person, of our place and our dignity in the world which we recognize both as fallen and redeemed.
That “vision” embraces what we could call both a natural and a human ecology. All that touches on human flourishing involves ethics and morality.
There is, for example, a broad consensus among scientists that climate change presents real threats to human flourishing on this planet. The Church cannot be indifferent to these threats. As Pope Benedict, known as the “green pope,” said, because we believe in the Creator, the Church “has a responsibility with creation and has to fulfill this responsibility in public.”
“Creation care” or commitment to stewardship of the world’s resources, is an ethical choice. It recognizes that the Earth, in the words of Pope Benedict, is “not simply our property, which we can exploit according to our interests and desires… It is, instead, a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and in this way provided the instructions for us to consult as stewards of his creation.”
Given that today greater numbers of people are more keenly aware of the need to protect the environment, these words are generally welcomed. And we wait with great expectation for the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical. Perhaps, he will be known as the “greener Pope.”
At any rate, a pope does not speak as a scientist but as a moral teacher — and, we do well to remember that all that touches on human flourishing involves ethics and morality, and therefore is within his competence to speak of.
For these same reasons, due attention must be paid to an “ecology of man.” And, I suspect, that Pope Francis will in some way connect the dots between “natural” and “human ecology.”
As human beings, we do not “create” ourselves; rather we are created — as the Book of Genesis says, “in the image and likeness of God.” The nature of the human being is to be a man or a woman. This order of creation also must be respected and protected if human beings are to flourish. To accept our “creatureliness” does not contradict our freedom but is a precondition for its true exercise.
Human ecology demands that rain forests be protected — because of what they do potentially and actually for the flourishing of the human species on this earth.
Likewise marriage, understood for millennia as a union of one man and one woman, ought to be respected and protected. Marriage always has been primarily about the raising of children (who seem to be hardwired to be best raised by a father and a mother who are married to each other).
It is certainly legitimate then to favor such traditional marriages — in law and custom — as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations.
And just as we favor laws that limit the danger of pollutants damaging our sensitive ecosystems, should we not be concerned about the “toxic waste” of pornography and its effects on the human ecology of the young?
Today, some hold for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will. Such thinking has brought about the degradation of our physical environment; and it now threatens our spiritual environment as well.
In the face of increasing relativism and individualism in the wider culture, we have too often forgotten that marriage (and the family built on marriage) reflects the truth of our human nature as social beings. Our human nature — like Mother Nature itself — is a “gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and in this way provided the instructions for us to consult…”
Defending marriage, promoting the family, protecting the young, are part of “creation care,” necessary for human flourishing on planet Earth.