by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
So often overwhelming statistics – perhaps because they are overwhelming – leave us numb, paralyzed or perhaps even indifferent. Their magnitude seems entirely too much for our minds to absorb.
Numbers such as the extent of deforestation in Brazil – 3,769 square miles of the Amazon rain forest being lost between 2018 and 2019; ice cover as large as the State of California melting last year alone in Greenland; the Saharan Desert – 3000 miles across and 800 miles north to south – expanding by an astounding 10% in one hundred years; – such numbers “bend the mind” as the saying goes.
Then when we remember that human activities in large measure have caused these clear threats to our common home, the tendency, I believe, is to instinctively shut down and turn away. It’s all too much.
Generally in the face of such colossal events, it takes something closer to ourselves for us to face the reality of it all. In this fearsome time of Covid-19, for example, if a member of our family or social circle becomes infected, we come starkly face-to-face with the kind of worldwide scourge we are facing.
Such a “near to home” event this week gave me, and I’m sure millions more, this kind of realistic awareness. After hearing for several days about the horrendous forest fires burning out there on the “distant” West Coast of the United States, a Washington, D.C. weather report slowly began to get my attention. It spoke about a light haze, predicted to hover over our city on an otherwise clear and comfortable September day. Mention was made in an offhanded way that the haze was due to smoke from the raging fires “out west”. At first I did not react to what I was hearing.
In a day or so this news item had expanded to a full blown story of “billowing wildfire smoke… settling into the atmosphere thousands of miles away”, including over Washington on the East Coast. Now the reality of global warming was all too real. It was right here with us.
Such personal consciousness of threats to Mother Earth comes on this Third Week in the Season of Creation. The commentary for these days underscores the need for the kind of awareness which, for example, forest fire haze over much of the U.S. places right before us. It says: “Earth is crying out, the poor are crying out, the existence and well-being of future generations is threatened.”
The Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of the Season call humanity to see current and continuing global crises from God’s point of view. In the first reading the prophet Isaiah speaks in God’s name: “My ways are not your ways,” and Matthew’s gospel underscores the same truth.
Humans’ ways too often regard the planet and her abundant resources as opportunities for exploitation leading to ever-increasing personal wealth for the already wealthy. God’s ways on the other hand teach that the vocation of humanity is that of steward, caretaker and lover of Mother Earth. God shares life with us as conscious, reflective beings so that we may work for Earth’s recovery as a haven of peace, beauty and fullness. In a word we are called to act on our planet in God’s way.
This change of attitude is a question of conversion – for all of us living today. So we close here with a remarkable quote from Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ (the inspiration for these yearly Seasons of Creation):
“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.