THE “ECOLOGICAL CONVERSION” AS VOCATION AND MISSION
Fr. Pedro Zitha, OFM From: Koinonia 2018-3 EN (published on CIOFS.org website)
The most appropriate way to present valid arguments about the theme of ecological conversion is not only to say how and when man must change his attitude towards Creation but also to invite him to observe carefully the environmental changes we are witnessing and through which it seems that Mother Earth is inviting the heart of man to question the sense of belonging to Creation and the interdependence of all creatures.
OUR COMMON ORIGIN
Man and the universe are two aspects of the same Creation that have the same origin, God the Creator. Since in the modern world man finds himself immersed in consumerism, materialism and selfishness, it almost seems that he has forgotten this reality and therefore it becomes difficult to talk about the universe as something that is thought of for the benefit of all Creation. Speaking of ecology, it is important to be aware of the fact that all created things are necessary for the good of all and only when man becomes aware of this reality, he is able to perceive the cry of the universe. Man, a rational animal, has the responsibility of listening and evaluating his relationship with Creation and, with a humble and sincere heart, understanding its interdependence, never abusing the fact that “God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples” (Gaudium et Spes 69). It is important that he never forgets the fact of being rational and that therefore he has the task of arousing in him a lively and healthy attention to the care of Creation. Unfortunately, and especially in these last centuries, man’s attitude towards the environment has been that of opposing “I” to “Creation” completely losing sight of the aspect of reciprocity and awareness of the common origin and of the importance of the fact that both were created with an act of love of God. It seems that the man who, as we said, is the only rational being among other creatures, is led to use this intelligence as a way to get away from safeguarding the Creation, which is the mandate that God has entrusted to him, to pass instead to its exploitation, thus altering that original and still valid relationship of union and interdependence. Well, to find an adequate answer to this problem it is necessary that man asks himself the question of why God has entrusted him with all that he has created.
FORGOTTEN VOCCATION AND MISSION
When God created the universe, he gave man the mission to guard it, or better, to use the words of the book of Genesis: ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden, to work it and take care of it” (Gen 2, 15). However, after having fallen into deception by the serpent, it is as if man had forgotten this mission and this situation continued also with the generation following that of Adam, namely that of Cain and Abel. Unfortunately, even today it seems that man continues to forget his mission and often utilizes the answer given by Cain to God who asked his brother’s account: “... Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4, 9).
Man not only destroys the environment but often denies his responsibility that is to protect, to watch over carefully, to preserve and safeguard God’s creation. It seems that man has never understood, and still does not understand that the environment is for his well-being and is for his benefit. The wars that still continue to torment peoples, the pollution present everywhere, both in developed and underdeveloped countries, are all elements that make us return to that episode in the book of Genesis (Gen 3,1-24 ) which deals with the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the lack of brotherly love and the envy of Cain towards Abel (Gen 4: 3-16). And it is sad to see how history shows how, even today, man is incapable of learning from his past and continues to forget the mission to which he has been delegated by God himself (see Genesis 2:15). However, it is important to affirm that even if we notice so much wickedness of many human beings towards the Creation, we can however find others who have what was the attitude of “Noah” (see Genesis 6-9) and that they still worry about doing good and that they seriously listen to the cry of Mother Earth so deeply wounded by human aggression.
“Another welcome sign is the growing attention being paid to the quality of life and to ecology, especially in more developed societies, where people’s expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of survival as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions. Especially significant is the reawakening of an ethical reflection on issues affecting life. The emergence and ever more widespread development of bioethics is promoting more reflection and dialogue-between believers and non-believers, as well as between followers of different religions - on ethical problems, including fundamental issues pertaining to human life.”
The problem linked to climate change, particularly evident in recent years, has attracted the interests of many scholars engaged in the search for the most appropriate methods for individual and collective understanding of the phenomenon and to facilitate everyone’s awareness of the dramas that they will live if man does not change his relationship with the environment quickly. There has been much talk and writing on the theme of Creation, from many points of view, but what seems to have been lacking in this process is the total conversion of man or rather his global understanding of what is happening to our mother Earth. Many initiatives have however arisen, such as the proposal for the celebration of the World Day for the Care of Creation, born in 2006 and celebrated on September 1 of each year: these are attempts to address all people of good will, both in political and religious ambits, to implement a true, total and sincere dedication to the care of creation. Unfortunately, however, there are still many who seem to be indifferent to the theme of ecological conversion.
During his life, the Poverello of Assisi not only converted and changed his lifestyle by modeling himself on the following of God and repairing his Church that was falling into ruin, but also began to take a deep attitude of attention and love towards mother Earth. Some of his contemporaries thought that he was crazy and that his relationship with nature was exaggerated, but he had already understood the importance of Creation and of the indissoluble and fundamental relationship between the Creation and the life of man. For this reason, even today, Francis of Assisi continues to be a reference for ecological conversion, because the example of his relationship with Creation is a real and concrete teaching and the Canticle of Creatures is a model of how today’s man must see and approach the Creation: “Praised be my Lord for our Mother Earth”. A mother who needs to be loved because she sustains us, a mother who must be listened to because her cry is that of a mother who is always ready to give her life for her children. Without loving what God has given us freely it is difficult to talk about ecological conversion. First of all we must understand that God has entrusted us with the care of Mother Earth as an act of love, because He himself loved everything He created and “God saw that it was good” (Cf. Gen 1-2). If therefore Creation and the Earth are good, they are given to us for our good and, as such, they need to be cared for and loved to remain always good, beautiful and new for the benefit of humanity, today and for the future.
I believe that when modern man is able to understand that the Earth is not just an instrument to be used and exploited, but a mother who must be respected and loved, then he will come to true metanoia (conversion) and be able to live in harmony with the Creation finding the appropriate ways to use his intelligence in order to improve his relationship with the environment. Ecological conversion can only take place when human being is able to understand that all beings, animate and inanimate, are God’s creatures and, as such, they all have the same dignity. No doubt there is a big difference when it comes to human dignity, but this does not mean that man should abuse the environment being convinced that he is superior to all other beings, animate and inanimate. All that God created was and is good and therefore man has the great responsibility to preserve and to continue to develop Creation for the common good.
True ecological conversion must not be imposed by the rulers but must arise from a personal and individual awareness, especially now that the world has almost become “a small global village”. This is why men should be able to easily learn the models of virtuous behavior towards the environment by looking at what is done by others. A personal attitude towards the environment, guided by human wisdom in union with that of divine, will help man to become a sage who in his debate on the theme of ecological conversion will show his wisdom not with words but with works. It is important for man to become aware of the fact that this is the moment to initiate a change in personal lifestyles and to find and implement urgently practical ways that can eliminate those utilitarian attitudes towards the environment still present today.
In his encyclical “Laudato Si” Pope Francis has brought everyone’s attention back to such an important topic and the need for a total conversion regarding Creation, inviting “to care for the common home”. In 2016, representatives of almost all the countries of the world gathered in the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), have reached the “Paris agreement” which, in very concrete terms, proposes a path towards the solution of the same problem. Therefore, the more the political and religious world engages in the awareness of this theme, the more there is hope that the planet can be saved from so much destruction caused by pollution, bearing in mind however that,
Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.
Conversion can only begin when man succeeds in taking seriously the lament and the cry of mother Earth. Without a reciprocal and equal relationship between human being and nature it will always be difficult to talk about ecological conversion. It is therefore important that man understands that for a healthy life there must always be a healthy relationship with the nature on which he depends for his life. Without understanding this concept, conversion will never exist and one will never have the desire to change one’s lifestyle as this change is only possible when there is a transformation of the heart and the mind. Conversion also comes from a total and absolute understanding of the value of what has been entrusted to us by God. We do not need to be scientists to understand that the Earth is complaining because of our behavior towards her. It is enough to look at what is happening: cyclones, tsunamis, erosion, drought, fires, etc. So talking about ecological conversion is a civil and socio-cultural issue for all the inhabitants of this planet, regardless of social class, political and religious faith. In order to foster a concrete and effective change, conversion must first be individual and only after collective. To have a true ecological conversion, man must fall in love with nature, that is, seek to discover God in Creation, just as Francis of Assisi did. When there is love for the environment, then there is respect, there is a change in the attitude towards it and there is the desire to want to defend it. One can then ask oneself who should rekindle such love. The answer is simple, it is the man himself, because it is he who is already suffering from the consequences of his negligence. There is no doubt that environmental degradation is one of the most worrying aspects for all of humanity and for this we are all called to ecological conversion, from the youngest to the oldest, from believer to unbeliever, we all have to be available to become custodians of nature because without a collective participation in the beautiful and creative action of God, ecological conversion will be only a theoretical and not practical topic. Ecological conversion without the love shown by offering a gift without asking anything in return will be a theme to be studied but not to be lived. Man must not only change his attitude but must find the courage to accept the fact that he himself is the cause of the deterioration of the gift that has been entrusted to him by the beginning of the Creation of the world, because of his betrayal. This courage will help man to return to the roots of his origin and of his mandate which is to be a collaborator of God in Creation and to overcome the egoistic and individualistic mentality. The cry of mother Earth not only reminds the man to listen but reminds him of his origins to be gifted with intelligence, created to guard all other creatures.
ECOLOGY: A VISION TO CELEBRATE
When it comes to creation, it is important for all of humanity to realize that it is not just something to think about or discuss, something to be protected but a given opportunity to praise the Creator: believers and non-believers are all found to admire the work of God, the God who created the Universe for all those who live there. Therefore, having God entrusted all creatures to us, we are all called not only to thank the Creator but also to celebrate the gift received.
The ecological vision should be the one celebrated by everyone because with a healthy relationship with the environment - the one modelled by ecology - everyone enjoys its fruits. When all humanity has become aware of this truth, it will then be easy to talk about ecology as an indispensable gift to humanity. For this reason man must have a strong and effective relationship with the environment, that is, he must not take advantage of the goods he has received as if they were worthless things and not related to his survival, but he must always try to understand that the changes in the environment are real and that they are becoming a great concern, both from the social point of view and from the political, religious and economic point of view, because in all these areas man is at the center, called to be aware of how to handle the gifts received.
How can we celebrate ecology without first having a relationship of mutual interdependence? In order to live, man needs Creation and vice versa. Therefore, it is up to humanity to keep it. The example of Francis of Assisi shines also in the Canticle of Creatures: he not only praises God for all that he has created, but leads us further, towards what we are called to do for Creation as collaborators of God in the work of Creation. Francis celebrates the gift of nature, which God has given us, uniting the intellectual to the spiritual aspect and with this sensitivity sees all creatures, animate and inanimate, as brothers and sisters, children of the same father, God.
Today’s man is called to recognize that the mother earth needs to be considered a member of the same family, a family where there is mutual love in which everyone enjoys the authentic joy of one’s existence and of the other. Therefore, together we can celebrate our common existence knowing that we are mutual gifts for each other. When there is this conscience man becomes capable of celebrating the gift received from God and can understand that ecology is the way to live in harmony with creation in universal fraternity.
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995), art.27
Cf. Pope Francis, Laudato Si.
Cf. Pope Francis, Laudato Si, art. 202.
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