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Reverence for God's creations

Originally Appeared in : 9816-8/2/18

My 5-year-old grandson loves creatures. At the library, he will select books about anything from spiders to Siberian tigers. In preschool, he chose to research and to present a report on Peregrine falcons. (Preschool has clearly changed a lot since my own children attended.)

 

For his last birthday gift, I took my grandson to the zoo, just the two of us. We arrived as the gates opened and dashed straight to the Polar Bear exhibit. He’d been to this zoo once before, and the resident polar bear had not been visible, so seeing him this time was my grandson’s top priority. We were not disappointed. The majestic creature was the highlight of our visit. We were also enthralled by the grizzly bear.

 

My grandson is not unique in his fascination with wildlife. Young children are drawn instinctively to the natural world. But, unlike adults, our children are powerless to protect our wildlife and their habitats. Thus, it falls to us to ensure God’s creation is protected for them and all generations to follow.

 

While I have always loved nature, I have not been an environmental activist. Though sympathetic to the cause, I have been drawn more to other areas of social justice. Perhaps I was complacent, believing that the preservation of species and the urgency of climate change would unite countries and governments to recognize the value of protecting our natural resources and reversing disastrous practices. Clearly I was naïve.

 

In his Encyclical “Laudato Si” (June 2015), Pope Francis writes: “The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems."

 

He continues: “ It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know and which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right” (excerpt from Part III Loss of Biodiversity).

 

“We have no such right,” the pope says. Yet we must think we do have a right to profit at the expense of the natural world. As I write this, attempts are being made in congress to change the endangered species act to allow people to profit more fully from land that has been designated protected habitats. Corporate lobbyists, representing ranchers and the oil industry, are encouraging sympathetic legislators to dismantle endangered species regulations that have been in place for 45 years.

 

In July 2017, the New York Times reported on a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that reveals that 30 percent of land vertebrates (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds) are declining in number throughout the world. In some parts of the world, mammals are declining by 70 percent because they are losing their habitats. These declines are the direct result of human behavior. Deforestation and pollution are the primary causes.

 

In the same report, scientists estimate that 200 species have gone extinct in the last 100 years. The “normal” extinction rate (over the past two million years) is that two species have gone extinct every 100 years (because of evolutionary and other factors.) The increase in the last 100 years should be alarming to us all. (“Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn” by Tatiana Schlossberg)

 

In the introduction to "Laudato Si," Pope Francis evokes St. Francis whose love for the natural world is legendary. Of this popular saint, Pope Francis writes: “His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists…Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.”

 

We Catholics often place a statue of St. Francis in our gardens, and on his feast day we bring our pets for a blessing. Rarely, however, do we consider the radical nature of St. Francis’s path of discipleship. His life resounds with a call to recognize our strong connection to all God’s creatures and to protect and revere all of God’s creation. It is urgent we heed the call.

 

Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at maryhoodhart@gmail.com

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