Here in southern Louisiana we spend more time in nature than people do in many places. We enjoy and use nature when we hunt, fish, spend time in the wild, and live off the land. However, we also understand, better than many, the need to care for the land. Due to neglect and coastal erosion some of the bounty our fathers and grandfathers enjoyed is gone, and we’ve had to take steps to protect what remains. Since we just passed Earth Day on April 21 and Arbor Day on April 26, we should look at how the Church calls us to treat the world around us.
After God created the world, the animals and humanity, “God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good.” After God made man and woman, he said, “God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.” The earth and nature are good and they are gifts from God. God has commanded us to both fill the earth and subdue it.
The Hebrew word for rule means literally “to tread under your feet,” as in treading grapes to make wine. We are given rule of the Earth so that we can make it serve our needs by cultivating it and using the produce of the land. However, the command to subdue the earth is connected to the command to “fill” it through having children. We are stewards of the earth, and we must protect it so that future generations will have all the good things of the land that we have.
In 2008, Pope emeritus Benedict said, “Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves.”
We have to stay away from the two extreme views. There are those who actually believe that animals and plants are more important than people. They don't just want to reduce the human population, they want to eliminate it, believing that our absence will allow the environment to flourish.
On the other hand, there are those who wantonly violate and destroy nature for their own personal gain by polluting, destroying, and misusing it. They don't care about their responsibility to be good stewards of the gifts of the earth or about their responsibility to future generations.
God has given us the freedom to use creation for our own benefit, for our families, and for our communities, but He requires us to use it responsibly. We must consider how our actions affect the people around us and future generations.
Those in positions of authority in government have a responsibility to put in place laws and programs that protect creation for ourselves and future generations while at the same time respecting the right of people to use nature responsibly.
Those in the business world have a responsibility to steer their companies towards uses of creation that consider the good of the entire community and not just one person or company.
Parents have a responsibility to teach their children respect for the natural world so they can enjoy it safely and responsibly.
All individuals have a responsibility to respect creation as well, even it is by simply cleaning up your camp site or not littering.
Remember, Christ taught us that power means the power to serve others, not to be served. Even in how we treat creation, we must try to be of service to others, and not expect them to serve us.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.