We live in interesting times — this month Pope Francis will issue his first social encyclical, Laudato Sii, dealing with ecological questions; and, the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down its decision on same-sex marriage. Each event will give Catholics the opportunity and the duty to engage the world with our teachings, our vision of the human person, our place and our dignity in the world that we recognized as both fallen and redeemed.
This vision enshrined in the church’s moral teachings embraces what both a natural and a human ecology.
“Creation care” or commitment to stewardship of the world’s resources is an ethical choice. It recognizes that the Earth is “not simply our property, which we can exploit according to our interests and desires,” as Pope Benedict XVI said. “It is, instead, a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order and, in this way, provided the instructions for us to consult.”
There is broad consensus among scientists that climate change presents real threats, and people are more keenly aware of the need to protect the natural environment. However, it is much more difficult for people to connect the dots and see that there is a linkage between a natural ecology and a human ecology.
As human beings, we do not “create” ourselves; rather we are created — as the Book of Genesis says, “in the image and likeness of God.” The nature of the human being is to be a man or a woman. This order of creation also must be respected and protected if human beings are to flourish. To accept our creatureliness does not contradict our freedom but it is a precondition for its true exercise.
An integral ecology demands that rainforests be protected — because of what they do potentially and actually for the flourishing of the human species on this Earth — and that marriage, understood for millennia as a union of one man and one woman, also ought to be respected and protected — as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations.
Some hold for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s individual will. Such thinking has brought about the degradation of our physical environment; and, it now threatens our social environment as well.
Pope Francis said in Manila this past January, citing a popular adage, “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature — creation — is mistreated, she never forgives.”
Thomas Wenski, archbishop, Miami