Ever since Pope Paul VI highlighted the damage that was occurring to the natural environment in a letter he published in 1971, the Church has been keen to highlight the importance of our having a harmonious relationship with the natural environment.
Though this issue has become more urgent in recent decades in a practical sense, this concern of Christians for the environment has deep theological roots.
As Pope Francis has said, our bodies are made up of the elements of the earth and we breathe and drink the products of the earth. We have an intrinsic relationship with the natural environment, and we should learn to respect and nurture it. But the reasons why we should care for creation go deeper: other creatures, and the natural environment more generally, are created by God. They therefore have a value that we should respect.
At the end of each day in the creation story, it is written: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:31). And yet, as John Paul II warned: “Man often seems to see no other meaning in his natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption. Yet it was the Creator’s will that man should communicate with nature as an intelligent and noble ‘master’ and ‘guardian’, and not as a heedless ‘exploiter’ and ‘destroyer’.”
We are called to conversion. We are called to recognise the goodness and beauty of the natural world and act appropriately. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
“Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things.”
Given that nature is God’s gift to us and part of his plan for us, growing in love for God and living better lives as Christians requires us to live lives that show respect for and nurture His creation as well as show respect for and love our fellow human beings.
The Catholic Church raises again and again the importance of environmental issues as She reads the “signs of the times”. Today, as we see the impact of climate change, the loss of bio-diversity and the scarring of nature more generally, we should make it a priority to change our lives to live in harmony with God’s creation.