America: Whatever happened to Catholic environmentalists?
Environment, argues that people are not going to make the environment a critical issue until they have “an awareness of the question of human purpose in the greater web of life.”
The environment cannot be reduced to one issue among many, he warns. Rather, environmental awareness must take the shape of a “religious awakening.” Until it does, no one is going to pay attention to a sermon about global warming.
Also calling for a new way to understand our relationship to the environment is Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis, OP, the founder of Genesis Farm in Blairstown, N.J. A proponent of “the new cosmology,” Sister MacGillis, like Mark Stoll, believes that the traditional Catholic commitment to justice is centered on “the human in [the] beginning, middle, and end of our concerns.”
To change the environment, she proposes, we have to change our entire cosmology. Fundamental is a sense of humanity as part of creation, rather than as master of it, and an acknowledgment of all creation as worthy for its own good, rather than for the good of human beings. “You reverse everything when you do that. You see that the future of humanity is totally aligned with the future of the planet.”
Sister Elizabeth Johnson writes that there are two ways to approach the ecological crisis in good faith: the stewardship model, which envisions the Earth in the service of humans; and the kinship model, which envisions humans in the service of the Earth. The conclusions to which these two ways lead are usually similar, though the routes to them are often quite different. Both, for example, would want to stop extinctions: the stewards because these are animals and plants for which we have been given responsibility and that might have valuable cures; the kinship approach because each plant is a life with an integrity all its own.
Both Sister Johnson and Sister MacGillis believe that the stewardship model would be a welcome improvement on what our government is doing now. Sister MacGillis worries, though, that this way of thinking is just not enough. “It hasn’t made the shift from a human material culture walking on a dead, material planet,” she said. Sister Johnson says that we must link our preferential option for the poor to the Earth as a whole, thinking of the Earth as “the new poor.” Both would agree with John Paul II’s statement in 2002 that “[we] must encourage and support the ‘ecological conversion’ which in recent decades has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophe to which it has been heading.”
As Sister Elizabeth Johnson wrote to me, “It would be great if we even got as far as the stewardship model.... Our rapacious policies and attitudes are a long way from there. But once you start to work with this issue, and begin to love the earth, then your spirit moves to kinship. It happens on the level of spirituality.”
She adds, “The most important thing might be to pray.”
Maybe the sister was right after all.- - -
Republished on Catholic Online with permission from the Feb. 13, 2006, issue of America and (www.americamagazine.org). Copyright © 2006 by America Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved. For subscription information, visit www.americamagazine.org or call 800-627-9533.
America: The Catholic Weekly Magazine (www.americamagazine.org) is a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.
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