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Catholics Called to Ecological Spirituality

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By Father Emmet Farrell and Christina Slentz

SAN DIEGO — What is ecological spirituality? Ecology has to do with organisms (like us humans) and our relationship to all other organisms and our physical surroundings. How are we relating to our environment? Spiritual ecology looks at the harmonious nature of this relationship—specifically how well we are conserving, protecting and promoting the gift of God’s creation, as we are called to do. How well are we caring for our fellow human beings, the plants, animals, and even inanimate resources?
The Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform argues ecological spirituality “springs from a profound ecological conversion and helps us to ‘discover God in all things,’ both in the beauty of creation and in the sighs of the sick and the groans of the afflicted, aware that the life of the spirit is not dissociated from worldly realities.”
Father Joshtrom Kureethadam, the head of the Vatican’s Ecological and Creation Office, writes that an “ecological conversion calls for a return to the Creator.” To do so, we must examine our behavior and adopt a spirit of repentance; we must recognize God as the Creator of all things; and we must act to repair our broken relationship with God and each other through our just stewardship and care for all of creation.

Turning to God in a Spirit of Repentance
Pope Francis’ letter Laudato Si’ begins with an examination of our ecological behavior, emphasizing scientific confirmation of human-caused global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels and the harmful impact to our Mother Earth and to the poor and vulnerable around the world. The past 10 years temperatures have gone up, with 2023 being the hottest year on record. This excessive heat is an imminent threat to all life on our planet. The EPA calculates 1,300 domestic deaths per year due to extreme heat. In 2022, the UN’s 27th Conference of the Parties, or “COP 27,” marked a 100% increase in extreme climate-related disasters over the last 30 years.
Our own diocese reflects such trends. Powerful flooding devastated homes and buildings last January, while extreme heat and drought plague the Imperial Valley, which endures summer temperatures ranging as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
On a broader level, the Laudato Si’ encyclical observes a “throwaway culture” characterizing our modern lifestyle, driven by ecologically detached, individualistic and consumer-focused behavior. Rather than exhibiting an ecological spirit, aware of our interconnectedness, a globalization of indifference to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor has laid siege to the planet. In short, humans overall are not demonstrating good stewardship of God’s gift of creation.

Repairing the Broken Relationship with God and Each Other
So, how do we go about developing good ecological spirituality and return to a right relationship with our Creator? Pope Benedict XVI argued, “technologically advanced societies (read the United States!) must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles.” Similarly, Pope Francis writes, “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.”
The threat to life posed by today’s environmental crisis requires us to overcome our self-centered individualism and embrace simpler, less consumptive lifestyles to the benefit of all life on our planet. Repenting these behaviors begins with what St. Pope John Paul II called an ecological conversion—seeing God in all of the world around us—and acting accordingly.
In his encyclical written nine years ago, Pope Francis argues hopefully, there is a “growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and humanity is one people living in a common home.” Momentum continues to build as humanity comes to grasp the fact that we are all connected and interdependent, and there is a sacredness in that relationship with one another.
This year at the UN’s 28th Conference of the Parties, the international community agreed for the first time to call for a reduction in our use of fossil fuels to stop climate change and preserve our common home. As people of faith, we can prayerfully support such efforts.

Living in Harmony with Creation
How do we nurture our spiritual awareness of the divine in all of creation and, in turn, accept the challenge to care for our common home as a response to this loving gift? On a communal level, we need homilists, catechists and others responsible for the formation of the faithful to develop a tender “ethic of ecology,” promoting ecological conversion and a humble sense of “integral ecology”—living in harmony with the gift of creation.
The Laudato Si’ Action Platform suggests actions to foster this spirituality might include creation-oriented liturgical celebrations, the development of ecological catechesis and Laudato Si’-related retreats. Simply getting out into nature and taking time for prayer and contemplation to connect to the beauty of the world around us is something everyone can do.
In the words of San Diego seminarian John Murcko, “Ecological spirituality should be in the DNA of every Catholic.”
The result, as the Laudato Si’ encyclical suggests, is that Christians will be inspired to recognize that “their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith.” This conviction of faith is not something peripheral or insignificant.
As Pope Francis says, “Believers themselves must constantly feel challenged to live in a way consonant with their faith.”

 

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