Note: This column developed out of the April 11th post, below.
Ecology, some say, has no place in Christian theology or practice. It encourages the worship of nature and it minimizes the role of humanity within that natural order.
These and other complaints have merit and must be heard—especially with Earth Day, April 22, coinciding this year with a Sunday.
In the midst of my work to explore Catholic ecological thought—and for all my delight in sharing and unpacking the eco-statements of the Holy Father and our bishops—I understand that without a firm foundation in orthodoxy, Catholic ecologists can stray into pantheism, paganism, and other “isms” that are at odds with Christian revelation.
I also know the dangers of entering into sometimes hostile territory when Catholics work with those of other faiths or no faith at all. At one recent interfaith meeting, the keynote speaker made two seriously flawed statements that did not sit well with me or other Catholics in the audience. His understanding of Christian history and theology was misguided and his words hurt the intent of interfaith dialogue.
Yes, the insertion of Catholic thought into secular ecological communities isn’t always an easy mix. As the Cross reminds us, the world and revelation are very often at odds—but that doesn’t mean that we don’t enter the world and preach the Gospel.
In fact, during the Easter Season—especially this very Sunday, which aligns this year with the eco-celebration of Earth Day—the Gospel readings are the Resurrection accounts, and they have much to tell us (and the world) about the Christian view of creation.
In Sunday’s gospel, the glorified Christ appears in the humdrum human world, offers peace to his amazed followers, shows them his wounds, and joins them for a meal of baked fish. His risen body is substantial and yet at a whim it can come and go and move through matter and, yes, eat. Two millennia before Albert Einstein exploded our understanding of physics with the mathematical relationship between energy and matter, the Risen Christ demonstrated this relation to his bewildered disciples—and he incorporated within it will, intellect and love.
For Catholic ecologists, these accounts testify to the goodness of creation as revealed in the first chapter of Genesis. Given the importance of the post-Resurrection human body—and the very proclamation of Resurrection!—early Catholics were loath to accept a belief that ran deep in pagan antiquity: that the human body was a prison from which we must escape. Instead, the early church battled to defend the goodness of all creation—of both spirit and matter, of both soul and body.
But this battle was never fully won. Modern-day pagans still see death as freedom from an inherently evil material world. And some of our well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ remain unwilling to embrace the notion that creation is a great good that cannot be poisoned or ignored without distorting core Christian theological principles.
Now more than ever we see the implications of dismissing the material world. For instance, modern science is showing us that our own human bodies are increasingly becoming infested with toxins—chemicals that we make, misuse and improperly dispose. Such chemicals, like mercury, even end up in the fish that we eat—a particularly troubling reality for pregnant women. It would seem that there is a direct link between a cultural disdain for Christianity’s Incarnation—as well as the meaning of Catholicism’s sacramental underpinnings—and the damage we’re inflicting to ourselves and our children, born and unborn, through invisible forms of chemical warfare.
Let us pray, then, that throughout the Easter Season, all Christians will reflect on the Resurrection accounts and see the great good of creation that sustains us all. Let us acknowledge that, even with all the potential dangers, we must fear not and engage our neighbors (and ourselves) in ecological discussions, founding them always on the Good News of Jesus Christ. After all, it only makes sense that we seek to sustain the ecosystems that sustain us if we wish to truly and fully proclaim Resurrection!