Both Saint Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis remind us that it is a Gospel imperative that we be good stewards of the earth. What better way to remind us of their teaching than to observe Earth Day 2017 and be good stewards of this precious planet year-round. Earth Day will be observed worldwide on April 22. The first Earth Day was held in 1970, activating 20 million Americans and helping to pass legislation including the Clean Air Act.
Today, Earth Day is a global event and possibly the largest civic observance in the world. For the Catholic steward, this day is an affirmation of Pope Francis’ call to the world to embrace the ethical dimensions of climate change and our response to it in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si. During the 47 years since the first Earth Day, the world has become more conscious of environmental degradation and humans’ role in it. It can feel overwhelming, and we ask, what can one person do?
Pope Francis acknowledges technological fixes, global guidelines, international protocols. He praises solar energy and calls for a decrease in the use of non-renewables. But the pontiff calls for something more radical, more spiritual, and for the Christian steward more deeply challenging: “profound interior conversion.” Climate change, environmental destruction and a change in weather patterns, he reminds us, exert their greatest damage on the world’s poor. The poor are a major theme of Laudato Si, as they are of Francis’ papacy. He challenges us to examine the profit motive that often engulfs respect for nature. He challenges us to consider how the powerful and the rich of this earth are affecting the powerless. Pope Francis reminds us that care of creation is rooted in the Book of Genesis.
He begins his encyclical, the first ever dedicated solely to the environment, with a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, and quotes frequently from his predecessors. This, he is telling us, is a spiritual and Catholic issue. In honor of Earth Day, consider what changes – perhaps some radical – you might make. “Live simply so that others may simply live,” has long been a mantra of the Christian steward. Begin by turning down the thermostat and promising to eschew one-use plastics. Take a reusuable bag to the grocery and a reusable container to the coffee shop. Cut down on frivolous buying. Consider what the “throwaway culture” of which Francis speaks means in your own life. Prayerfully consider your personal relationship to the poor. Make your environmental concerns known to your legislative representatives. “Teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe,” Pope Francis prays to a generous God, “for all things speak of you.”