15. Your Share of the Earth

What does being “at home” mean for you? How big is your home? Solidarity with all the peoples of the earth involves reverence for the earth itself, on which we all depend for our lives. The well-being of people and the well-being of the earth are interdependent.

When the planet is abused, human life and human well-being are diminished. When, for example, a small fraction of the world’s population possesses and consumes most of the world’s resources while larger numbers of the population suffer undernourishment and even starvation, the world and its people are being abused. The same is true when scarce resources are ravaged and depleted, and even the most basic resources such as air and water are being polluted.

The protection of the environment is not only a technical question; it is also and above all an ethical issue.
(Pope John Paul II, Letter to the Church in Asia)

Wrong relationships with creation constitute a wrong relationship with the Creator. So,

What is needed is an act of repentance on our part and a renewed attempt to view ourselves, one another, and the world around us within the divine design for creation. The problem is not simply economic and technological; it is moral and spiritual. A solution at the economic and technological level can be found only if we undergo, in the most radical way, an inner change of heart, which can lead to a change of lifestyle and sustainable patterns of consumption and production.
(From a dialogue between Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, June 2002)

Even management of resources involves something more than management; it depends on how we view the natural world.

Humans do not live by bread alone; the natural world also nourishes our spirits.

One way is to see the natural world mainly as a resource to meet our material needs. Those who control the resources spare no effort in persuading people to buy more, possess more, and consume more, not stopping at real needs but including mere wants. Consumerism becomes the goal of economic activity.

To meet the demand, resources are exploited as fully as possible. This is what leads to the pollution and depletion of resources, and the amassing of people into overcrowded centers of population so that more natural resources can be exploited. This way of consuming resources is relatively recent in human history, and characteristically Western.

A much older approach, common to many indigenous peoples, also sees the natural world as a resource for meeting material needs, but sees it mainly as the environment in which we meet a wider range of human needs. Humans do not live by bread alone; the natural world also nourishes our spirits. It is where we most easily experience beauty and wonder; where we can “be still and know God.”

Preserving the planet’s ability to be a true “home” for the nurture of our spirits as well as our bodies requires that the exploitation of resources be on the basis of the minimum necessary for our real needs.

The lands, forests, fisheries, rivers, and “treasures” which the Treaty of Waitangi seeks to protect for the “undisturbed possession” of the Maori people cannot be understood merely in terms of material needs; they are first and foremost the home or environment in which people meet their spiritual needs.

Underlying this view of the natural world is a sense of it being

  • a gift
  • that is reverenced because it is received from the Creator
  • and over which we exercise not so much ownership as stewardship;

Because creation was entrusted to human stewardship, the natural world is not just a resource to be exploited but also a reality to be respected and even reverenced as a gift and trust from God. It is the task of human beings to care for, preserve, and cultivate the treasures of creation.
(Pope John Paul II, Letter to the Church in Oceania)

For Practice

  • Look at photographs of people who are suffering from poverty, hunger, loneliness, or war. Reflect on why this is happening to them. Then ask yourself whether you benefit from any of the political or economic arrangements that contribute to their suffering.
  • Read the prophet Amos 8:1-12 to get a sense of how the earth, and we ourselves, wither up when we try to live by bread alone.

For Prayer

You keep pledge with wonders,
O God our savior,
the hope of all the earth
and of far distant isles.
By your strength you
established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You still the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of the waves
and the tumult of the peoples.
The ends of the earth stand in awe
at the sight of your wonders.
The lands of sunrise and sunset
you fill with your joy.
You care for the earth, give it water,
you fill it with riches.
Your river in heaven brims over
to provide its grain.
And so you provide for the earth;
you drench its furrows,
you level it, soften it with showers,
you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness.
Abundance flows in your steps,
in the pastures of the wilderness it flows.
The hills are girded with joy,
the meadows covered with flocks,
the valleys are decked with wheat.
They shout for joy, yes, they sing.

Psalm 65:5-13