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AVE VERUM's Catholic Environmental Stewardship page.

Last updated May 22, 2003

Ave Verum is about living Catholic - showing Christ in our lives.  This site is loyal to the Pope and faithful to the Magesterium of the Church.


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I have been spending some time searching the Web for Catholic sites discussing environment and economics, and I have been surprised at how little genuinely Catholic stuff there is regarding environmental concerns.  A good place to start, however, is The Catholic Conservation Center, whose "...mission is to promote ecology, environmental justice, and the stewardship of creation in light of Scripture and Roman Catholic Tradition."  The Catholic Conservation Center features an extremely thorough collection of Roman Catholic writings about ecology and environmental justice, and includes information on the patron and patroness of ecology: St. Francis of Assisi and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the "Lily of the Mohawks".

Another tidbit from The Catholic Conservation Center: there is a renewed interest in the Rogation Days (the three days before Ascension), when it was traditional to offer prayers for a bountiful harvest.  It is also traditional to bless the produce of fields, gardens and orchards on Assumption (August 15).

SPECIAL NOTE:  On visiting the Catholic Conservation Center, I see that there are, in fact, quite a few Catholic sites relating to environmental concerns.  I will be reviewing these sites over the next little while.  If you know of any other Catholic sites dealing with environmental issues, organic gardening, and similar issues, PLEASE e-mail me so I can include links to them!

BASICS

Of course, there are quite a few resources available regarding a Catholic attitude towards economics, as befits our concern for the poor and for justice.  There will be some discussion of economic issues on this page, but it is primarily focused on environmental issues, as they do not seem to be as thoroughly covered from the Catholic standpoint.  For a Catholic view of economics, check out Catholic Economics, http://www.catholiceconomics.com.

For the basics of what the Catholic attitude should be towards the environment, let's turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"(339) Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection.  For each one of the works of the 'six days' it is said: 'And God saw that it was good.'  'By the very nature of creation, material being is endowed with its own stability, truth and excellence, its own order and laws.'[208]  Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God's infinite wisdom and goodness.  Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment."
"(340) God wills the interdependence of creatures.  The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient.  Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other."

There we have a rich field for what Catholic attitudes must be towards the created world.   "Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment."  We note that the ordered use of created things is correct and proper, while the disordered use of created things is not merely unkind, not merely something which may have unfortunate consequences which are not at the moment foreseen, but is actually a sin (since holding the Creator in contempt is undoubtedly a sin).

Harking back to my study of ecology (the interrelationship of living things to each other and to their environment) in high school, I was thrilled to see how the catetchism takes that bit of science and expands and fulfills it:  "God wills the interdependence of creatures...Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other."

This article ("Catholicism and the Natural World" by Thomas Storck, quoted on CERC) puts it better than I could:

"Each created thing, sun and moon, large tree and little flower, has what we call a nature, that is, a whatness:  each is a distinct and different kind of thing.  As we saw above, it is by being itself in its own integrity that a thing is good.  But none of these individual goods exists entirely by or for itself, "no creature is self-sufficient."  Thus even though all created thing praises God simply by existing, they also exist "in the service of each other."  Plants make use of the sun, rain and minerals from the soil; animals eat plants and other animals and use wood or grass or sand to make nests or other dwellings.  So while it is good to allow animals and plants to live their own life, for of themselves they praise God, it is also good to cut down trees to construct buildings needed for mankind's use or to eat plants and animals, since they exist also to serve us and each other--since each created thing praises God by being itself, we cannot use them except in our genuine service and for our genuine welfare.  Since each created thing blesses and praises God in its natural state, simply by existing, we ought not to take away that praise from God unless we have good reason.  For natural things are not simply at our disposal, but exist "to complete each other, in the service of each other."  If we use them for frivolous reasons, or for things which ultimately are harmful to human society, then we are not using them in our service, but to our hurt.  The mere piling up of consumer goods, the spending of huge sums on unworthy objects, our insatiable appetite for amusements--are any of these sufficiently important to justify our taking away things of the natural order from their work of praising God?  As Pope John Paul 11 wrote in Centesimus Annus:  'It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being," and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.(no.36)' "

There we see the connection between environmental issues and economic issues.  This is the light in which we need to examine issues like organic gardening, conservation of wilderness areas and wildlife, feeding the poor, enabling those in less technologically advanced areas to live better, reducing the waste we personally produce and the general wastefulness of our lifestyles.The Bible is not silent on this issue, either.  "There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs." (I Timothy 6:6-10). We need only take a look at the so-called "business ethics" of far too many businesses to see "the love of money" being the primary driving force behind business decisions.

Saints for Environmental Stewardship:

St. Francis prayer card

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!  St. Benedict of Narsia, pray for us!  St. Adelard, pray for us!

Patron saint of gardeners:  St. Adelard; his day is January 2.

Patron saint of farmers: St. Benedict of Narsia; his day is July 11. (St. Benedict is also the patron of those in religious orders, and is invoked against witchcraft, poison, and temptations, amongst other things.)  This prayer to St. Benedict is particularly appropriate for those who are concerned about the environment:
"Admirable Saint and Doctor of Humility, you practiced what you taught, assiduously praying for God's glory and lovingly fulfilling all work for God and the benefit of all human beings.  You know the many physical dangers that surround us today, often caused or occasioned by human inventions.  Guard us against poisoning of the body as well as of mind and soul, and thus be truly a "Blessed" one for us.  Amen."

And, of course, we must especially remember the patron saint of ecology and environment, St. Francis of Assisi, , perhaps best known as patron saint of animals and of Catholic Action.  

Regarding a Catholic attitude towards economics, St. Vincent Palotti's prayer is also appropriate:
Not the goods of the world, but God.
Not riches, but God.
Not honors, but God.
Not distinction, but God.
Not dignities, but God.
Not advancement, but God.
God always and in everything.

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening is beautifully in line with the teachings of the Church.  Organic gardening is gardening in tune with nature.  Organic gardeners avoid the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides (with the monetary and environmental costs their use involves) but that's only part of the story.  The organic gardener focuses first on building up healthy soil and practicing gardening methods that encourage healthy plants and a healthy micro-ecology of soil micro-organisms, insects, birds, and more - totally in tune with the Catechism's declaration that "Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other".  The organic gardener strives to learn how things actually work in God's creation ("nature"), and to work with nature.  This being the case, the organic garden is beneficial to the environment, does not use up an inordinate share of the world's resources, and encourages an attitude of patience in the gardener.  Furthermore, organic gardening is within the reach of anyone who has a bit of ground to garden, no matter how poor they may be, for organic gardening relies recycling organic wastes and on understanding the relationships between living organisms.

For excellent information for beginning and experienced organic gardeners, check out Organic Gardening Magazine's site.  Features include Solutions Online, Organic Gardening Basics, Almanac, Bookstore, Gardener to Gardener Message Boards, OG Watchdog, and more.  They provide lots and lots of information on-line, besides subscription information for the magazine (which is well worth getting!).  WARNING: although this is a top-notch site for organic gardening information and books, their bookstore contains a lot of questionable material in places like the "Spirituality" section.  Okay, you Catholic gardeners, writers and editors out there - how about a Catholic gardening magazine?

That working in harmony with nature will actually supply Man's needs has long been established.  For instance, except in extraordinary cases it is not necessary to use virulant (and environmentally toxic) poisons to control insect pests.  For up-to-date information on biological controls, go to Biological Control News, which features a quarterly e-newsletter about controlling garden pests with biological (and safe) methods such as ladybugs, predatory wasps, etc.  More information can be found at International Organization for Biological Control of Noxious Animals and Plants, Nearctic Region..

Neo-Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design

The mechanistic view of the universe encapsulated in Darwin's theory of evolution has contributed in a major way to the modern attitude of indifference to the value of the individual person (born or unborn) and the rejection of religion.  Amazingly, Darwin's general theory of evolution (chemicals to cell to simple organisms to fish to amphibians to reptiles to mammals to Man) has become accepted as "proven" DESPITE the fact that all the biological sciences keep piling up evidence in direct contradiction to it.
For an excellent discussion of the major difficulty for evolutionary theory posed by "irreducible complexity" and the explosion of knowledge about how the cell works, check out "Darwin's Black Box : The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" by Michael J. Behe.  This book is excellently written and does a commendable job of explaining the technical details of biochemistry without making the explanation TOO technical for the educated layperson. Highly recommended!  For a preview of Mr. Behe's work, read the interview on CERC between Benjamin Wiker and Michael Behe.

For a very thorough and even-handed review of the history of Darwin's theory of evolution, a report on the research in all aspects of evolutionary biology, and a summary of how the actual facts impact the theory, check out "Evolution : A Theory in Crisis" by Michael Denton.  Not as technical as Michael Behe's book (although technical enough), this book is particularly good for the comprehensive overview of all the different areas of research in biology and zoology.  Highly recommended!

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