The theme of this reflection is very much close to my heart and linked to my cultural roots. I grew up in direct contact with nature and we fed ourselves with thefruits of the earth. I have always admired its diversity and beauty. I remember thatwhen I saw the Atlantic for the first time, I could not hold my emotions back, saying:God made you! I had a similar experience when I found myself, as a missionary,within the planet’s largest “Biodiversity Sanctuary”, the Amazon.
Today I live in the beautiful city of Rome, full of life, history, beauty, culture,tourists and pilgrims, but at the same time, chaotic and polluted, receiving thousandsof brother and sister immigrants and refugees. Having fled from wars oftenprovoked by economic interests and human exploitation. We are also afraid of thethreat of terrorism in its increasingly extreme manifestations throughout the world.
Within this panorama we are called, as Pallottine Family in the Church, to liveGod's mercy and take care of all creation. A theme which is at the centre of PopeFrancis’ reflections, and is also a cause of concern for the UN, for non-governmentalorganizations, for scientists, theologians, churches, families and individuals. It isproper concern for our common home.
The biblical message regarding creation is fundamentally positive. Creation isthe first act of God’s love. Everything flows from this source of life and being whichis God himself, as from the womb of a mother. Seven times we are told that whatGod had done is good and beautiful, the last time concluding with "God saweverything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good" (Gn 1:31) and the firstsong to the Lord’s merciful love was born from contemplating the work of Creation:"Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy it is everlasting" (Ps 117).
God created man and woman and has woven a dialogue of friendship withthem. He put all of creation in their hands to be protected and cultivated, and one ofthe most beautiful, joyful and liberating things given to us is to contemplate the workof creation, and ourselves within it. To feel ourselves to be “creatures”, objects of theCreator’s loving and provident concern, situates us in our right place before God, intrue, joyful humility, full of gratitude and able to assume the responsibilities that Heentrusts to us with the gift of life.
The human vocation will, therefore, be understood in terms of the cultivationand safekeeping of a precious reality which is beloved by God. On the other hand,
‘“keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving’ In this sense, everycommunity “can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence,but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for cominggenerations” (Laudato Sì (LS) n. 67).
This, therefore, is a privileged field for the exercise of a merciful dominion overcreation on our part and that of all humankind; for good administration expressed incaring practices; to make concrete that good news which is at the heart of the Gospelfor the earth and for humanity itself.
As image and likeness of God, we are called to be the manifestation of God’sglory in the world and dialogue partners of God on earth before all creation. Only wecan assume a conscious attitude of respect for nature. Only in us can an integral andmerciful ecological conscience emerge.
For the first time, we are facing an ecological crisis of planetary proportionscaused primarily by human activity. In addition, we are convinced that essentialnatural resources for life and human dignity are under a “universal social mortgage”(cf. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis n. 42): since the earth is ultimately a commonheritage, its fruits are for the benefit of all. The land contains resources that, whilelimited, are still sufficient for all humanity.
Protecting the environment is a challenge for all of us and we are called to listento the cry of the earth and of the poor who are desperate. Technical and scientificadvances can contribute greatly to humanising the world, but can also be instrumentsof destruction and death. If technical progress is not matched by correspondingprogress in human ethical formation and integral growth, it ceases to be progress,and becomes a threat for humanity and for the world. Integral ecology requires a"reconnection" of scientific and technical progress with ethics. When we humanbeings approach the environmental issue, we must assert the primacy of ethics overtechnology, from which comes the need to always safeguard human dignity.
Consumerism and the wasting of resources, which leave much of the humanpopulation in misery, are opposed to any sound ecologically integral ethical option.The elimination of poverty is one of the first steps that human beings can take tosolve ecological problems. An “ecological conversion” of individuals and peoples isrequired this to happen, especially of those who have an abundance of wealth.
The destruction of the environment and ecological problems are rooted to agreat extent in a blurring of people’s ethical awareness. In this way some elements ofthis ecological crisis reveal their moral character.
Thus, the ecological crisis gives us the opportunity for a radical critique of howwe are organising the production of goods and human coexistence. It also indicates anew paradigm in the relationship between nature and humans. It is necessary topoint to a new way of living and thinking, not merely to conceive of nature only as aresource to be exploited. In this respect an ecological conversion is needed, whereby
human beings cease to see themselves simply as isolated individuals, but rather aspart of a whole, capable of natural and social interrelations. This self-understandingleads to an ethical and spiritual conversion which generates behaviour and attitudesof respect, of self-restraint, of just measure, and of solidarity with nature and withother human beings.
From here comes the awareness that solutions must be generated anddeveloped within ourselves, since the best way to respect nature is to promote an“integral human ecology” open to transcendence. Respect for human beings and fornature has a complementary reciprocity. The primary ecology is to defend “humanecology”. If “human ecology” goes well, all creation will benefit. In fact, theecological crisis arises almost always from our spiritual and social deserts.
A full and merciful ecology requires an effective change of mentality whichpropels us to adopt new lifestyles. These lifestyles should be marked by personal andsocial sobriety, temperance and self-discipline. It is necessary to escape from the logicof mere consumption and promote forms of production which respect the order ofcreation and which satisfy the needs of all. Such an attitude encourages a renewedawareness of the interdependence which binds all of the inhabitants of the earthtogether. This invites us to be agents of change of the structural causes whichgenerate such behaviour. In this regard, the formation of conscience and of anintegral spirituality have a fundamental role.
We are called to relinquish an aggressive way of life and instead prize kindness,caring relationships and the value of the dignity of others. Integral human ecologynot only reveals the relationship between the human person and the environment,but also the relationship of each person with him- or her-self and with the Creator.Duties towards the environment flow from those towards the person, considered inhim- or her-self and in relation to others.
All of this also requires a response at the level of spirituality, inspired by thebelief that creation is a gift that God has placed in the responsible hands of humanbeings for their use, recognition, gratitude and loving care. Nature presents itself toour eyes as the imprint of God, as a place in which his creative, providential andredemptive power is revealed. For this to be possible, we need to help one anotherto rediscover our connection with God and the mission given to us to be “shepherdand guardian” of ourselves, of others and of all creation. The new creation in Christand the continuous creation reveal that nothing of what exists in this world isindifferent to the creating and redeeming plan of God.
Certainly, as a family inspired by St. Vincent Pallotti, who makes our beingcreated in the image and likeness of God the foundation of our common vocation,we can help to put in place a new style of life and new missionary perspectives andsing the mercy God with all creatures.
From our Founder, St. Vincent Pallotti:
“Ah my God, faith reminds me that You are infinite Goodness and, as such, are infinitelydiffusive, and with infinite love from all Eternity you have mercifully decreed the ineffable Work of theCreation of the entire Universe to spread in your creatures all of Yourself, eternal, infinite, immense,incomprehensible. [...] Ah my God, faith reminds me that you have carried out the loving Decree ofCreation, and that before creating human beings, you created Heaven and Earth, and in Heaven theAngels, and on earth everything visible [...] in service of human beings, so that everything needed forthe necessities of the present life be provided to be used as much as is needed to attain our final single Blessed End” (OOCC XIII, pp. 30-31).
“Human beings are created, as Holy Faith teaches us, in the image and likeness of God, Godwho is charity in essence, and therefore human beings are living images of divine charity according tothe essence of their creation: and since God, being charity in essence in his external operations isalways attentive towards human beings and was so to the point of sending his Only Begotten Son toredeem the human race by his death on a Cross, so human beings must imitate God according to theirpossibilities through the effectiveness of their works by loving their neighbour, which includes everyone ofevery condition, country, nation etc. capable of knowing God and, therefore, human beings according tothe essence of their creation cannot exempt themselves from the precept of charity” (OOCC IV, pp.172-3).
For personal and community reflection:
“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibilityof everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we donot, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is whythe New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shall not kill” means when“twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nationsand future generations of what they need to survive” (LS n. 95).
• Do we really consider the good things which we have as a gift from God whichwe are called to share and use for the good of all?
• In what ways and to what extent do we live out the consequences of this in ourdaily lives as individuals, as families, as communities?
• What practical steps are we willing to take as individuals, as families, ascommunities, as NCCs and LCCs, to protect the environment and to respondto the cry of the poor?
P. Gilberto Orsolin SAC,