Pope Francis and the Environment

Pope Francis has set off a wave of controversy in the past week. His fresh Vatican perspective comes as an energizing breath of air to those of us who have wished that Roman Catholicism was more focused on the concerns of Jesus and less on the church. So, I’ve applauded his recent comments on both the economy and on the environment.

The writer of Genesis made a point of telling us in the creation narratives that we are stewards of the earth. God calls the creation good. The earth and the sky, birds and fish, water and sun, animals and humans, flowers and trees – it’s all good. God then puts the care of creation into our hands. We are to have dominion over it. Which is not a license to use and abuse the earth, but to be responsible for it. The choice has always been ours. For centuries we have recognized the human contribution to our environment. We have had to reclaim the call to manage and care for the earth, to keep our waters’ fresh and our air pure. Late in the 13th century burning of sea-coal so polluted England’s air that King Edward penalized anyone caught burning it. Lead poisoning in public water supplies was recognized in Julius Caesar’s time.

I grew up in a home that valued the environment. Just as our farm neighbor’s were dependent upon the rain and the sun for the health of their crops and their livelihood, our fishing resort was also dependent upon an adequate supply of rain. Without it, lake levels dropped, fish froze out in the winter and worry about getting the mortgage paid colored our days. We learned about conservation. We were schooled in its importance. Today we have a much more global understanding of the impact of industry and energy policies on the earth.

I’ve been convinced by the numerous scientific studies which have warned that we are entering a major change in climate if we do not act in responsible ways now. Trends obvious in the scientific community in the 50’s and 60’s are escalating today. I think what Pope Francis wants us to realize is that we have a limited period of time to turn around in the way we are caring for the earth, before cataclysmic change occurs. In the book of Jonah, we find a man who doesn’t want to go to Nineveh warning the people that they will be destroyed if they do not change as a people. Maybe it was because the Ninevites could figure out that Jonah had no desire to be in their city, warning them of impending disaster, that they took to heart his words. The city changed. They repented, which means they turned around. They changed direction. The city was saved. I wonder as I read that scripture today, if it wasn’t so much that God chose not to destroy the city, as they were saved by changing from their self-destructive actions which would have brought about their inevitable end.

The prophetic word to change comes to us through ordinary people who have been given a word by God. Sometimes they are shepherds like Amos and other times they are religious figures like Martin Luther King Jr. Most often we have stoned the prophets, or tried mocking them into silence. But God’s truth will not be silenced. God’s love for all of creation is evident in the scriptures. One day we will look back at this time either as one when the world figured out we needed to work together to save the earth, or with regret that we didn’t act when we could. May all of our eyes be opened to God’s truth and may we act accordingly.

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