When I brought my mom for her first COVID-19 vaccine in February, you could see that everyone at the community center was all smiles, even if masks were covering most of our faces. Beyond the relief of vaccinations finally getting into arms, the sight of so many people in one spot was itself gratifying. After months of isolation, it was a delight to be part of a crowd. There was a lesson in that moment — a lesson about relationships — that we Christians must embrace and share with our secular friends, especially as we work together to care for the world and its peoples during the secular celebration of Earth Day.
For Christians, to be fully human begins with our relationship with God, first and foremost, and then with each other and with all of creation. This is a foundational truth revealed at the very opening of the Book of Genesis, which then escalates throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In the New Testament, Christ elevates this reality as God with Us. In the person of Jesus Christ, divinity enters the stuff of creation — water, minerals, electro-chemical signals and all the created realities that comprise the human body. And it is Christ Himself, through his ministry and ultimately on the Cross, who shows us what true love looks like.
Today, Christ remains with us sacramentally through the elements of creation and the presence of other people. This underscores for all ages the relational nature of God, creation, and humanity. This takes us to another Christian proclamation — another lesson to share.
Love, we Christians propose, is not some mere sentimental or, worse, self-serving emotion. It is utter abandonment to God, each other, and to the common good. The Christian understanding of love is not the modern notion of empowerment. It is instead the embrace of humility. It is truly the love of the Cross. And this gets us to the Christian contributions to Earth Day — and to the wider conversations and activities of protecting God’s created order. To be truly human is to be always and everywhere a person who sacrifices, who seeks not some transient worldly, tribal, or biological love, but a love that serves all people.
Because our relationships extend beyond each other, we are meant to live within our wider social and ecological means. We are meant to consume and produce and subsist within our local and global ecosystems in ways that do not cause harm to the natural order or to other human beings. While the political engagement of the faithful helps ensure sound environmental and social policies, Catholic environmental advocates have a more potent political tool — and, indeed, a responsibility.
The first rule for Catholic ecological advocates is to evangelize. Because to share the Gospel in word and deed both saves souls and baptizes organizations and even entire cultures — be they political, corporate, consumer or a single family. In other words, if we’re truly intent on protecting creation, then we must first and foremost work to baptize all cultures with the Gospel of Life, as well as with the grace of the Triune God that helps us live it every single day of the year.
William Patenaude, M.A., KCHS, serves on the diocesan pastoral council, is an engineer with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and is a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish, West Warwick. He writes at CatholicEcology.net. His novel, “A Printer’s Choice,” is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.