Thursday, 1 November 2012

Stewardship and Discernment: A Human Ecology Correctly Understood

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.


Over the past year, I have been part of processes of discernment and reflection about faith and ecology with two groups; one on a local level and the other one on an international level. What came out of these discernment processes suggest that we are willing to make this cause our own as we labour to join Christ in building the Kingdom of God and to live in communities that make “decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment that should mirror the creative love of God”, as Pope Benedict XVI said in his World Day of Peace Message in 2007. While we are willing to address our ecological situation, we do not know how.

This concern points to our awareness of the complexity of the issue, the ambiguity of available information, the need to educate ourselves more thoroughly on this issue, and above all, to grow in awareness of creation as a gift from God. Over-consumption is the cause of the ecological problem; we are draining the planet at a terrifying rate. We need to strive for sustainability and to become better stewards of all creation. The best way to respond to the ecological crisis is to remain faithful to our Christian vocation: we are called to live more simply, to hear the voice of God in those who are suffering and to rediscover the sacrificial aspect of love.

Through prayer and reflection, we are presented with the disturbing consequences of climate change and environmental destruction; they are present now, and shall remain in the future. These can understandably lead to feelings of fear, guilt and shame; nevertheless, we should never react out of fear or helplessness. Our response should always be rooted in our love of God and for God’s creation. In addition, our discernment should move us to compassion as we become more aware of the link between ecology and poverty: the poor are usually those who are most affected by the consequences of our exploitation of the creation and all creatures.

The feedback received and the insights shared in these two groups point to a general movement of consolation in face of the serious environmental crisis our world faces today. The consolation – our growth in hope, faith and love – that we may experience in this discernment should not suggest that we minimize our own role in this crisis. Nor should we take lightly our mission to respond wholeheartedly in union with the universal community to the call of Christ through this crisis. The magnitude of the crisis should be a call to greater understanding and a deeper concern for one another and all of creation. Let us keep in mind that the Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters: wei ji, wei for danger and ji for opportunity. One character without the other does not represent the word crisis

Above all, the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. We may experience resistance to change our way of being through our prayers, reflections and discussions; nevertheless, we are all called to move beyond doubts and indifference to take responsibility for our home, the earth. This is a crisis that calls for conversion and reconciliation.

In the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009), Pope Benedict XVI addresses the environment in terms of human responsibility towards creation and the need for a human ecology, correctly understood. In Pope Benedict's own words, “our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment, and damages society.” (CV 51)

I pray that we continue to grow in a deeper awareness of our relationship with creation. I ask the Father for his light and inspiration as each of us discerns specific steps to address the ecological problem. I hope that we may find the generosity, openness and courage we need to respond to the Holy Trinity's invitation to labour with love for the promotion of justice and the service of faith.


  1. An excellent reflection on and summary of the state of affairs. We share much in common. Especially this observation in your post: Above all, the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis.

    May God bless you all, and let us work together in sharing an authentic Catholic understanding of ecology.

  2. Thank you William. Let us continue to pray for a deeper understanding of this crisis. Blessings.

  3. I'm reading an excellent book right now called "Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire", by William Cavanaugh of the University of St. Thomas. While it focuses more directly on consumerism than ecology, the connection is still there, and he lays out a theological basis for how we treat food and live in authentic freedom. In other words, it lays out clearly the spirit roots of the environmental disorder. I can't recommend it enough. Great article, Santi!