“Brothers and sisters, we know that all Creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
Pentecost is a celebration of the birth of our Church, and the symbol of our renewed selves. These words of St. Paul to the Romans are weighted with importance as we try to escape from the grip of this pandemic. Creation is groaning, and we will become a new people at the other end of this struggle.
Much has changed in our world in the months since we first heard about a medical crisis happening somewhere on the other side of the earth. We have since learned that an event that happened thousands of miles away from us can upend our way of life here. COVID-19 has no respect for race, religion, political affiliation or national boundaries. This is a harsh way to teach us that we are all interconnected and must act together for our own survival.
COVID-19 woke us up to the reality that we are vulnerable to changes on our planet. Environmentalists have been saying this all along, and five years ago Pope Francis added his voice to the warning. He sounded the alarm that we are in danger of damaging God’s Creation if we don’t have a conversion of heart about climate change. Laudato Sí was a gift to the world, but a mandate to the Church. Care for God’s Creation was raised to the highest level of Church doctrine as one of the seven themes of Catholic social teaching. Climate change is an enigmatic concept, requiring trust in science and an ability to connect the cause and effect of its impact. Carbon footprints and melting ice caps became fodder to fuel political fires, leaving scientific evidence behind in the ashes, and adding to confusion on how to respond.
Pope Francis reminds us that we live in an ecosystem in which the environment, society and economics are all interrelated. “If everything is related, then the health of society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life.” We have never been more aware of the domino effect of a single action. One touch brought about multiple illnesses, which sent us into social isolation, which brought down a roaring economy. We have learned through these past few months that if we work together we can combat the invisible forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine if we apply this lesson to climate change.
Climate change is a reality, even if reasonable people disagree about its cause. The global impact of climate change is not evenly shared, but the responsibility to act belongs to all of us. Pope Benedict once said that every violation of solidarity harms the environment; perhaps this can be turned into a positive. Every act of solidarity can save the environment. Rather than allowing the impact of climate change to overwhelm us, let’s pool our single acts together to make a difference in the world. This begins with awareness of the plight of people living in environments devastated by extreme weather. This can move us to reflect on how we impact the environment. Small changes locally can be the pebble in the pond that ripples across the continents. We then can join our voices as advocates for change.
Performing small acts of a symbolic nature is part of our Catholic culture. We believe that just two or more gathered in prayer will lead to great results. The little way of small acts of kindness will move the world to love. We can also perform small acts of ecological kindness. Shutting off the tap to save water in a region where it flows abundantly may seem pointless, but it is an act of solidarity with the 750 million who have no access to clean water. This small action will be more potent when combined with advocacy for policies that hold countries accountable for practices that have drained water supplies. Every time we buy locally sourced food we reduce the 2,000-mile supply chain from farm to table that consumes so much fuel. Our decision to avoid using single-use plastic may not make a big difference to the oceans that are teeming with more plastic than fish, but if whole communities change, then reusing, recycling and composting will become a way of life.
Pope Francis said that Creation is a holy and precious gift from God, but it is also the way that God speaks to us. If we are to be faithful to God then we must be faithful to God’s world. Climate change is wreaking havoc on God’s world and God is telling us to act. The groaning of God’s Creation will not fall on deaf ears.
Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation.