June 29, 2015
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Christians have a responsibility to respect nature and the Creator, a duty that is an essential part of the Christian faith, says Pope Francis.

While nature is a system that can be studied and controlled, creation "can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all," the pope wrote in the second chapter of his encyclical On Care for Our Common Home.

Creation is illuminated by God's love and calls humanity into a universal communion, he said in the chapter on The Gospel of Creation.

If one forgets that God is both all-powerful and the Creator, the pope said, one is liable to fall into worshipping earthly powers or even trying to take God's place.

In the Jewish-Christian tradition, nature is never seen as divine, he said. "In doing so, it emphasizes all the more our human responsibility for nature."

Humans have a duty to protect the earth and develop its potential, he continued. In doing so, they should see nature as fragile and should abandon "the modern myth of unlimited material progress."

Jesus, the pope noted, lived in complete harmony with nature. People were amazed that even the winds and the sea obeyed him. Further, he worked with his hands, thus sanctifying human labour.

"He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world."

Pope Francis said the creation accounts in the Book of Genesis show human life grounded in "closely intertwined relationships" with God, neighbour and the earth. That harmonious relationship was disrupted by human sin, a disruption that also distorted humanity's mandate to have dominion over the earth.

The interpretation of that mandate which understood humanity as encouraging "the unbridled exploitation of nature" is a false understanding of Christian teaching, he said.

"Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures."

ALL GOD'S CREATURES

Each creature has its own purpose and reflects God's love, the pope said. Their ultimate purpose is not to be used by humanity, but rather finds fulfillment in God.

"The entire material universe speaks of God's love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God."

Nevertheless, he said, the human person has a uniqueness that cannot be fully explained by evolution. "Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself.

"Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology."

UNIQUE RESPONSIBILITY

All living things are not on the same level, he said. Human beings have a unique worth and, because of that, carry a unique responsibility.

The unique dignity of each person should lead us to challenge "the enormous inequalities in our midst." Some suffer from "degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions."

Ecological issues, then, need to be understood within a social perspective which respects "the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged."