Caring for Our Gift
April 20, 2018
“We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” -Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.
To me, these words from Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home encompass the importance of incorporating environmental care and justice into faith. We are of the earth; we are made from the earth; we depend on the earth. In forgetting this, we lose sight of our duty and responsibility to care for the gift of earth which sustains us.
The first Earth Day in the United States on April 22, 1970 brought the idea of care of creation into the mainstream. When we celebrate Earth Day this year, we continue the fight to be responsible stewards of our home while also recognizing the additional issues into which environmental justice reaches. We cannot discuss responsible environmental care without acknowledging how environmental degradation first and foremost impacts those with the least privilege. This degradation is especially unjust because those contributing the most to it are the privileged of the world. Recognizing the connection between environmental justice and human justice brings new meaning to Jesus’s words, “Whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.” If we contribute to environmental degradation and allow disrespect toward our environment, we are hurting the most vulnerable among us and therefore the very Being who gifted us this Earth.
Viewing care of creation through the lens of Catholic Social Justice makes it clear that this is an issue of justice we should be fully invested in. This is not an issue of political persuasion, but a component of human and environmental dignity that Catholics and non-Catholics alike should fight for. Unfortunately, today there are powerful individuals who claim to speak from a place of Christian morality while simultaneously expressing disdain toward the idea of environmental justice. The profession of respect for life and humanity these influencers make falls woefully short when it does not include clean water, air, and soil for every person on this earth. As fellow Christians, we must remind these individuals, and ourselves, that care of creation is a central component of our belief system.
Although working towards environmental justice can feel like a daunting challenge, for me it is a straightforward effort at its core. Care for creation simply means respect for our earth and by extension ourselves. We are a part of the earth, “we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies made of her elements,” and we are stewards of humanity and the Earth. Let us become the stewards of our gift we are meant to be. Let us make our Creator, our Giver, proud.
Hannah Mullally is currently pursuing her Master’s of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She earned her Bachelor of Environmental Science from Creighton University in 2016. Hannah aspires to work for a conservation non-profit organization where she can communicate the importance of environmental stewardship to the public and work to conserve the beautiful natural places of our planet. She also hopes to integrate environmental justice into her conservation work and advocate for the right of all people to live in a healthy world. When she is not working on research or advocacy, Hannah takes advantage of living near the Great Smoky Mountains by hiking, backpacking, and biking.