by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Not surprisingly “adoption of a simple lifestyle” forms part of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ seven-year plan. The health or sickness of “our common home” depends directly on humanity’s use or misuse of what God has given us here – our personal and global lifestyles. The cultivation of nature’s beauty and conservation of her resources not only enhance what the Creator has placed here for our happiness; they also give us the opportunity to be “co-creators” who conscientiously and respectfully develop God’s gifts.
An amazing statement when we think about it!
It is summed up in God’s command to our first parents: “be fertile and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). With our modern understanding that humanity is a global family it has become clear that the Creator was referring not only to human pro-creation but to continuing “creation” of the common home we have received from God. Pope Francis rejects a literal understanding of the rest of God’s command, “fill the earth and subdue it”, citing the next part of that mandate, “God took the humans and settled them in the garden of Eden to cultivate [co-create] and care for it” (Genesis 2:15).
What a tragedy then, that the human race, especially in a short span of our history on Planet Earth, has done it such harm. The Industrial Revolution that began in the mid-18th century started us down a pathway of ever-increasing appropriation of natural resources to feed a monster called ”consumerism”.
The worst examples in our times of this culture of avarice are the extractive industries. We need only read Pope Francis’s efforts to demonstrate what these industries are doing to our common home through what he calls “Querida Amazonia” (Beloved Amazon). That glorious treasury of earthly wealth and beauty is in mortal danger. The encroachment of extractive corporations in the Amazon have caused irretrievable harm there. Their diabolical machines have polluted the water, produced deforestation, poisoned the air and increasingly overrun vast areas of indigenous lands. Oil and gas extraction in the Amazon add to this destruction. Querida Amazonia is a towering metaphor of every human sin against God’s creation.
All of this is caused by lifestyles principally in the so-called “Developed North”. Think of the vast profits made by extractive industries as they rape the environment to produce ever-increasing consumer items for our consumption. The demand for consumer goods which the privileged of the world now demand as their/our right complete this dreadful cycle of vicious development, methods feeding the wants of the privileged minorities of the world.
[In a restaurant on the shore of the Amazon River some years ago, I was advised not to order fish because it was very expensive due to its gigantic and obscenely lucrative exports to “the North”.]
A quote from Laudato Si’ sums up these local and global lifestyle realities and the difficulty of correcting them:
“Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them. In these countries which should be making the greatest changes in consumer habits… people have a new ecological sensitivity and a generous spirit. At the same time, they have grown up in a milieu of extreme consumerism and affluence which makes it difficult to develop other habits. We are faced with an educational challenge.” (LS 209)
As small rays of light in this dark picture consider two examples:
- the current serious and somewhat successful global awareness of the need to share coronavirus vaccines globally.
- President Biden’s gamble that his incredible spending proposals on behalf of the needy in America will be paid for by significantly higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires.
These are signs of the lifestyle adjustments which Pope Francis sees as crucial to save the planet and humanity.
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.