Pope Benedict and the Spirituality of Climate Change (Blog Action Day)

“It is essential that the current model of global development be transformed through a greater, and shared, acceptance of responsibility for creation,” according to Pope Benedict XVI in a message he sent to the U.N. Summit on Climate Change in September 2009.   While many focus on the issue of the environment as biological or economic, Pope Benedict always considers the impact on human beings.  After stating our responsibility for creation, he continued: “This is demanded not only by environmental factors, but also by the scandal of hunger and human misery.”

Pope Benedict is well informed about Climate Change, having supported the Pontifical Council for Climate Change in 2007, where a academics and leaders met to consider the scientific, political, social, and theological aspects of the looming climate change.

Pope Benedictus XVI
Image via Wikipedia

In his video-presentation to the Council, Pope Benedict stated a basic perspective on the environment: “The Earth is indeed a precious gift of the Creator who, in designing its intrinsic order, has given us guidelines that assist us as stewards of his creation.”   This very Catholic view sees order, not chaos, in creation, with human beings assigned both a place and a vocation in that order. This is not just a role that responds to the needs of each particular time and place, but one that extends outward, from each locale to its effects on the whole world, and forward in time to embrace new generations.  “The natural environment is given by God to everyone, and so our use of it entails a personal responsibility towards humanity as a whole, particularly towards the poor and towards future generations.”

Pope Benedict often links the spiritual ills of the wealthy nations with the environmental degradation of the poorer nations.  In his recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he said that the excess of consumption in wealthy nations is inevitably tied to the lack of food, drinkable water, education, and basic health care in poorer nations.

Unlike many who simply rail against runaway consumption as the source of the problems of climate change, Pope Benedict looks into the spiritual hunger behind much of the mania for more and newer gadgets and material goods.  In his inaugural homily in 2005, he used the image of the desert to describe both the devastation of climate change and the spiritual wasteland of consumerist society:

“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.”

On this Blog Action Day, much attention will be focused on political and economic plans and treaties.  But these can only succeed, ultimately, if there is widespread change in the lifestyles of people in wealthy nations, including the sharing of technology and technical assistance with less developed nations, so that their standard of living can rise without the going through the depredation of the environment that the developed nations experienced on their road to prosperity.   The Church can offer its centuries old tradition of a spirituality of the desert, of learning contentment through turning away from material wealth.   In this, the Pope’s voice is certainly not alone.

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