It is always rewarding to think that we are contributing to the legacy of a particular person, place or thing. As Catholics we have the obligation to contribute much more than a legacy to our descendents, we have the opportunity to join the Church in an enduring mission of both theological and ecological proportions. We have always been a Church that prided itself on good missionary and evangelization activities to those that have not yet experienced the faith. In the 21st century we are being called upon to spread a similar message for God’s creation, namely that the Catholic Church is eco-friendly and considers all of the resources God has placed on the planet as valuable parts of His Creation. Over the past few months, the press has reported the interest of Benedict XVI in making the Vatican aware of what being, “green” means to the Church. The Paul VI audience hall is undergoing a transformation that will enable the building to lower costs of environmental systems, namely heating and air-conditioning with the inclusion of new solar fueled panels. Additionally, each papal trip that happens is a catalyst for the Bishop of Rome to have trees planted somewhere on the planet to reverse, or at least neutralize the “carbon-footprint” his trip has cased or at least generated. New trees provide a restored method of replenishing natural sources that might have been used to provide support for any papal trip (e.g. Air travel, use of gasoline etc.). This movement is to say the least an exceptional example of the Church’s ability to raise global awareness about the precious nature of all of earth’s natural resources. It is also a pivotal topic that will help the Church’s evangelization efforts and humanitarian aid projects as it recognizes the truly universal need for a positively sustained natural environment.

What can the local parish community do to achieve conformity with the global movement towards eco-friendly communities? Well for the most part it can contribute quite a bit, starting with just a few small things. My parish community, Saint John the Beloved has instituted a program of recycling around the parish campus. Throughout the parish buildings there are containers to hold disguarded paper products that can be recycled. I have for quite a long time thought that parish communities generated quite a bit of paper and they should be encouraged to conserve on this resource. Our Catholic schools are perfect places to begin projects of environmental conservation…not only can we have a paper drive that raises needed funds for parish and school activities, the classroom is the perfect environment to teach eco-sensitive subjects as part of our religion and science classes. The unique blend of science and religion can equally apply principles of ecology and salvation history all in the same lesson. After all the writings of Teilhard DeChardin, S.J. provided us with a primer of cosmological integration with theology and religion, we can attribute the earth sciences to the manifestation of Genesis’ stories as well.

From a very practical level parish communities can be great “greenhouses” of environmental growth. Starting with all of the normal aspects of running a large parish community, to implant a socially responsible conscience regarding God’s creation is a good place to begin. We really don’t need to go out of our way to make an environmental impact in our parish community. Let’s start with paper, use less of it and use all of it. Heaven knows there are 2 sides of each sheet of paper…use them. Of course, I always get back to the parish missalettes…lets cut the order in half every 6 months, until we all realize that we know the responses to the parts of the Mass. Better still, how about advocating that we “Listen” to God’s Word as a parish community, rather than follow along in a rather poorly reproduced tabloid form of Sacred Scripture. Remember God’s Word is dynamic and is intended to be actively heard…not fumbled through pages. At the same time, perhaps we can develop an opportunity to teach all of our liturgical readers, that they are PROCLAIMING GOD’S WORD…speak up and don’t mumble. Perhaps this is a moment of catechesis…let’s use our parish resources to properly teach our volunteer readers to communicate effectively.

The issue of parish resources is always a sensitive one when it comes to heating and cooling the parish complex as well. Ecologically friendly Catholics also layer their clothing, so they can adjust accordingly to the heating and cooling conditions of their parish Church. Remember, every month, the local parish pastor looses more hair, or gain more gray every time the meter is read to figure out the monthly gas and electric bill. If you are old enough to remember rationing during the Second World War, gasoline lines during the 1970’s, WIN buttons during the Gerald Ford years and even Woodstock, you are old enough to understand…wear a coat or a sweater. The prayer intentions that should be added to the Prayers of the Faithful should include…all those that need divine miracles to pay their utility bills. As Catholics we should say to our entire parish priests, deacons, parish councils and leaders…turn down the thermostat, we are going green.

Frequently we look to examples of individuals that best express our common beliefs in eco-sensitivity. We don’t need to recall Gandhi, or any other colorful figure from the American ecological movement. We really only need to look to the life and image of Saint Francis for an example of an ecological Catholic. St. Francis looked at the world around him as a treasury of God’s gifts and resources. We in the 21st century as well, need to extol St.Francis’ simplicity of life and his desire for organic living in our own lives. In all aspects of our spiritual and temporal lives, perhaps we need to begin living in a less ostentatious manner, stop brutally consuming natural resources and begin to view all of the earthly creation around us as a finite and special gift that reflects the bountiful goodness of God’s majestic creation. Catholics, Moslems, our Jewish cousins and everyone else that share this planet…need to slow down, recycle and replenish the resources we consume daily. It is not only good spiritually; it is good globally…after all the Earth is the only planet God created for us his human creatures.

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