"We depend on these larger systems for our own existence. These ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about."
In war-torn regions and underdeveloped countries, people drink polluted water, the only kind available to them. They live in garbage fields searching there for food or clothing. What is the quality of their lives? A deeply troubling question, a question with a moral dimension. At the same time, Pope Francis uses important guides at his disposal to help us see the roots of the worst problems affecting mostly the poor and the most vulnerable. To make his point, the Pope enlists ethical and spiritual positions, the Judeo-Christian tradition, Church Fathers, and writings from other faith-traditions.
This planet is the house we live in and "our common home." The panoramic vistas proclaim the ordered harmony of the universe evoking wonder. They are "charged with the grandeur of God." Pure gift.
Yet, the Pontiff draws a stark contrast between a world of beauty and a world that is dangerously on the verge of self-destruction. The world "is beginning to look like a pile of filth," the Pope declares. Moreover, even a cursory observation tells us that we are in an ecological crisis characterized by the word "throwaway." It is not just our climate that is in crisis. The root cause of this ecological crisis is the overall mentality that men and women can throw away whatever they wish and whenever they wish in order to promote a more efficient culture however disordered and destructive in the process.
We have become a "throwaway" world with a "throwaway mentality." See for yourselves. Among the victims of this "throwaway mentality" are the most vulnerable of society, the poor and the homeless, the elderly, the unborn life in the womb, our wounded veterans-these, Francis declares, are the refuse of society. "Our common home" needs to be cleaned up and made whole.
Judge for Yourselves
The Pontiff describes "a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment for which he blames apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness." This world, driven by technology, global markets, economics, and consumerism, has assumed a power that dictates the principles by which we should live. "A technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its power." He gives the example of transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos.
What is an integral ecology? It encompasses cultural and moral conversion in such a way that it touches the international community, national and local groups all the way down to educating our young people with a moral ecology. It invites our young adults into an ecological lifestyle. An "integral ecology" is nothing less than a conversion to wholeness.
The Call to Action-Now
Having seen and observed the ecological landscape, the question arises: what have we done to bring about this "throwaway culture?" What must we do to improve the situation in small but practical ways? We have been given the responsibility of caring for "our common home" according to our talents, abilities and limitations. The encyclical conveys a sense of urgency; we must act, and change our ways.
Small measures can be taken by individuals and families to conserve our water supplies and other natural resources which are so scarce in other parts of the country and world. Cooperate on state and local levels. The Pontiff's summons is not for others and for tomorrow, but for each of us now. From us, it fans outward to our children. Our youngsters can learn to conserve water and heat, food and paper. Children in this country should be made aware of other children their age who are not quite as fortunate as they. Parents can teach their children to have a God-centered, sacramental reverence for created things . . . how to care for their homes, their common spaces, and their own rooms.
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Parents may choose to send their children to summer camp or day camp. Directors there are well aware of ecological matters. Likewise at the beach and pool, museums, libraries, parks, and cultural events.
One of the most satisfying times in the lives of children is to have inspiring and uplifting stories read to them at bedtime-stories with happy endings. Parents should read to their children about the world around them-stories about nature, animals, the environment, heroes, and mutual respect for others, and yes, conservation of "our common home." Worthwhile DVDs like the Lassie movies, through dated, are classics and can always be enjoyed by everyone in the family.
Joy and Peace
The Pope writes that "Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption." 'Less is more' is preached by many faith-traditions. "A happy life is marked by gratitude for what one has, by moderation and by the contentment to live with little and appreciate small things and small pleasures. Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is a way of living life to the full."