I’ve never understood why people savor September. The pace of life quickens while the amount of daylight shrinks; it’s always the beginning of the end of a year that I’ve known too briefly.
For me, September is a perennial reminder that our world is prone to corruption. Then again, such reminders are useful. From the beginning of the Church—and technically before, as when Peter sought to stay put at the Transfiguration instead of proceeding to what awaited in Jerusalem—we followers of Christ sometimes forget that we are fallen creatures living in a fallen world.
This forgetfulness can result in the presumption that we, by ourselves, can fix all our ills. For those who care about creation, forgetting our fallen nature can delude us into the lie that we need only our wisdom and will to abandon self interest, erase carbon footprints, or recycle and compost all wastes. Eden might seem ours to grasp.
It has been noted, most especially by the Holy Father, that good ecological concerns can easily lead to pantheism or paganism—that environmentalists might find themselves worshipping creation, not the Creator.
And in fact, too strong a confidence in our human (that is, created) abilities can lead to worshipping a creature—in this case, us. As others have noted, such tendencies are behind many radical ideologies, like those of Karl Marx or liberation theologians. For those of us with lesser or more personal ambitions, the heresy of expecting supreme happiness in this world can manifest itself whenever we seek final fulfillment from that next promotion, or that new iphone, or that new love we’ll certainly meet on Match.com.
Catholic ecologists are prone to such errors as well. We can deny that our efforts in the political, educational and scientific arenas will all too often come to nothing without Christ, His Gospel and His Cross. I dare say, the occasional hour on one’s knees before the Blessed Sacrament will bring abundance to any attempt at environmental advocacy.
Hence, the good news. By keeping our focus on God’s grace, those of us seeking to protect the environment should not be discouraged when we can’t save the day, the planet, or the pond down the street. There will always be setbacks.
And of late, there have been a few: A proposed wind power project near Block Island is mired in legal claims and politics. A much smaller project, to bring solar energy to Christ the King Church in West Warwick, was halted by a change in state bureaucratic priorities. On the federal and global levels, science and political ideologies fail to understand each other, and this brings suffering to many ecosystems and economies.
I was once discussing such gloomy eco-political news with a group of confirmation candidates. One of them asked with frustration, “Why are you telling us all this if there’s nothing we can do about it?”
Nothing we can do? I never said that. I told them, and I state here, that there is nothing we can do by ourselves that will bring us closer to Eden. But with God, who is love and relation, all things are possible. Our whole faith—from the promises in Genesis through the cries of the Prophets to the words and deeds of our Lord—points to a restoration of creation, one which will bring lasting harmony, peace, truth and life.
And yes, we have a role in this always blossoming drama. It’s a simple one. We need only stay close to the person of Christ in prayer and sacrament, and we must continually heed those commands to love God and neighbor. Most importantly, as we go about our business, we must never forget Who it was that, in the beginning, made—and has promised to restore—the heavens and the earth and us.
William Patenaude is an engineer specializing in environmental regulation and a graduate student of theology at Providence College. He is a parishioner of Sts. Rose and Clement Church in Warwick.