Ecofriendly is a term which most of us are familiar with in the past twentieth century, and even still in the early days of the twenty-first century. However there is a term which seems to be evolving in the Catholic world, that is ,”ecotheology.” The term is exactly as it implies. The relationship between our human search for God and our relationship with our planet. Quite often we think of eco movements or environmental groups as extremists that in the past have hung out at health food stores, ate wheat nuts, wore Birkenstocks (with socks) and went camping for their summer or winter vacation. The notion of Catholic conservation really has never been in the mainstream thought of Catholic theology. All of that is changing. No, I don’t think that Benedict XVI will give up the Papal Prada footwear, nor the Bausch and Lomb, Serengetti sunglasses, or even the Mercedes -Benzes automobile, with the vanity tag of SCV1. What we will see and hear and even experience throughout our Catholic world, a growing trend towards an appreciation of God through His earthly creation and how that earthly creation plays a role in our participation in salvation history. What I mean by this is simple. More consideration for natural resources and less conspicuous consumption. Sounds like a good formula for success, the better we utilize our planet’s natural resources, and the better we honor and glorify God through his creation.
It all sound too easy. Almost like a good, Smokey the Bear television commercial to avoid forest fires. Let’s give it some theological thought. We believe that everything around us was created by God. We further believe that God gave us (in Genesis) the ability to take charge (or rule) over all of His creation. It only makes sense then that we replenish and restore resources that we have begun to exhaust, or are in the process of exhausting. The Vatican recently announced that it was going to become the first ecofriendly country in the world. Namely, the,”carbon footprint,” of the Vatican was going to be offset by the planting of thousands of trees throughout the world. Before we go too far into the rainforestâ€¦carbon footprint refers to the amount of earthly resources we each use as an individual in pursuit of “living.” All of the water we drink, food we consume, oxygen we inhale, the carbon dioxide we exhale, the car we drive, the gasoline we use and so on all contributes to the health and life of the planet Earth. So as concerned Catholics, we need to develop a concentrated concern for the environment in which we work, worship and liveâ€¦after all, no Earth, no Church, no sustained life.
There are a lot of methods that we can consider as ecofriendly. We are all aware of them. Recycle, conserve energy, and use less gas and so on. However what we need to develop is an appreciation and understanding that ecofriendly is also good eco-Catholic theology. As Catholics, we acknowledge the beauty of God’s creation, and hopefully attempt to live in harmony with each other and nature.
Perhaps one of the first considerations we should think about is the construction of new parish communities that incorporate recycled materials. If a parish is building a new wing to the school, or a larger Church or a new living space for its priestsâ€¦there should be a lot of thought and prayer put into the discussion of how this new space will impact the environment. I am not saying that a parish should dwell in a tent or a treeâ€¦but I do think that in terms of architectural design and planning the best resources of environmental friendly methods of heating and cooling and powering this new complex should be used. The Vatican is retro-fitting the Paul VI audience hall with solar panels to assist in both the heating and cooling of this cavernous audience hall. On a parish level it might sound crazy, but perhaps large clearstory windows could be used to offset electrical lighting, and fluorescent lighting could be used in place of traditional incandescent bulbs.
Another thought is to use recycled materials from Catholic Churches that have been closed or consolidated. Let’s remember that an altar is an altar, is an altar and if possible can be altered to fit within the new Church, school or rectory. Creative Catholic thinking is really what is called for here. Use what we have, get rid of the poorly planned or environmentally unfriendly items in our parish communities, and think of ways to reduce the electric, gas and utilities bill for each parish. If our parish communities did this on a more realistic level, our Catholic pastors would be thrilled to death. How many times have we all shouted to our family and friends, especially childrenâ€¦close the door the heat (or air-conditioning) is on! Or â€¦Do you think I am heating (or cooling) the entire neighborhood!
We are ecologically sensitive as individuals, even when we don’t know that we are being ecologically sensitive. Perhaps it is time that as a worshipping community of faith, we incorporate these common sense values to the way we run and maintain our Churches and all of our Sacred Spaces. After allâ€¦it is all God’s Creation, and we have the moral and ethical responsibility to provide for the health and future of the earth for ourselves and our descendants.
I guess a lot of practical things will come into play here as well. My own pet issue is the constant replenishing of monthly missals in the Church. We kill a lot of trees on a regular basis so that people can follow along (and not respond) to the various parts of the Mass. Why not get back to the tradition of buying a Catholic Missal, which you take to and from church with you and is not intended to be disposable. It makes sense, lets get together as parish communities, and sponsor a “Missal-buyathon!” where the goal is to provide everyone in the parish with a Missal so we can eliminate all of the bothersome paper “missalettes” that we throw-out after each liturgical season.
Pastors also love the use of the parish bulletin as a resource for letting everyone know whats going on. However, we throw out a lot of paper on a weekly basis as Catholics just to be told about events that go on in our Catholic parishes on a regular basis. Let’s take an eco-friendly Catholic stand and make announcements before or after Mass, use the bulletin board, or better yetâ€¦let’s utilize technology and have a parish announcement web site or phone line. No trees, no printing, no trash, no one needs to pick the bulletins up in the Church after Mass or off the parking lot!
Environmentally friendly Catholicism is an ancient tradition in our church, after all our sacraments use elements that are intrinsically basic to the earth and our own nourishment. Basis to the most sacred expression of our faith is bread and wine, which are the most elemental sources of nourishment. We use olive oil for our sacred rites, such as Confirmation and Holy Orders. Water one of the basic elements is used to incorporate us into the Body of Christ. We have been eco friendly as a community of faith from the beginningâ€¦perhaps now we need to spend more attention on how we leave the planet for future generations.
To start withâ€¦while I write this reflection on the need to become eco-friendly in Catholicism I want to implore all of my fellow Catholics and parishioners to ditch the Styrofoam coffee cups at home or at workâ€¦buy a good old fashioned coffee mug that can be washed and used again. It’s good stewardship, it’s good for the environment and it brings us closer to appreciating God’s creation by not contributing to a ecologically insensitive world problem namely growing landfills. In the long run, a reusable coffee mug with give you a better sense of ecotheology on a regular basis than a paper WaWa cup.
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