By Fr. Eugene Hemrick
Yeshua Institute Fellow, Director of the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood
Today’s ecological programs are abundant, creative and inspirational. To name just a few: wind farms, solar panels, energy saving devices, recycling, roof top gardens, streamlined waste management, rain gardens, rain barrels, and light rail transportation.
As awesome as is all this inventiveness, will it continue to grow and be even more awesome, or will it decelerate and be replaced by other exciting movements? What role in particular does parish church life need to play in order to keep the ecological movement alive and well?
Why raise this question now in the midst of an upsurge in ecological enthusiasm?
Our fickle focus
For one reason, movements tend to have their day in the sun, but with time they wane and disappear due to life-changing circumstances. What inspired an older generation is not always as inspirational to the next. Those who experienced World War II come from a time in which conserving and respecting resources were the rule. Although we are blessed with abundance like never before, it’s easy to succumb to taking it all for granted.
Another concern in regards to ecological awareness waning is the fact that human fascination tends to rapidly flit from one thing to another. When it comes to what attracts our attention from one moment to the next, we are fickle. A new car may be the rage one day, but along comes a more attractive model the next day and it monopolizes our fascination. Add to this stock market plunges, unforeseen disasters, terrorism, and other major economic worries that can shift our attention away from ecology in a wink.
Becoming matter-of-fact is yet another threat to ecological progress. The heart cools, indifference sets in and healthy passion – the driving force behind progress – dwindles. This often leads to living in the moment and adopting a selfish attitude of letting future generations take care of themselves.
And then there is corruption like that found in Volkswagen’s fraudulent engine emissions testing, which indicates that love of money can often be the source of evil.
It goes without saying that the ecological movement possesses good intentions, maximum effort and a wholesome sense of doing what is right. Where there is goodness, however, there is always resistance to it. Take, for example, the so-called champions of freedom who allege – whenever sacrifice, cutbacks and change are mentioned – that efforts for ecological progress threaten their liberties.
During the ongoing water crisis in California, a gentleman wrote, “This is my life and my money; I am free to do whatever I want with them when it comes to using water.”
At its heart, ecological success depends on humankind working with and respecting God’s creation. If that principle were widely embraced, many of our ecological problems would be solved. Not everyone, however, is so God-centered. And for some, employing God to solve our problems is a throwback to outdated pre-technological times.
God’s gift of humility
As we advanced from a pre-tech society to a technological society, theologian Fr. Romano Guardini observed: “Equally evident is the danger of power (in the new technological world), the danger of revolt against God – the danger, above all, of no longer being aware of Him as the serious reality, the danger of losing the measure of things and lapsing into the arbitrary exercise of authority. To forestall this danger, Christ sets up humility, the liberator which breaks asunder the spell of power.”
In Psalm 3 we hear echoes of Guardini’s concern, “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God.”
In light of all that threatens ecological progress, on what one area should our church focus most? Where is to be found the ongoing strength needed for ecological success? The answer is in education that employs a revolutionary pedagogy in developing and increasing knowledge.
On the subject of knowledge, Cardinal John Henry Newman writes, “When I speak of knowledge, I mean something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it sees; which invests it with an idea. . . . It is an acquired illumination.”
Reading between the lines, we learn that Newman is calling for critical thinking and the revolutionary method of “calling into question” our experiences as the primary means for developing knowledge leading to effective action.
This pedagogic approach is nothing new. In praising the power of raising questions, Roger Bacon wrote, “A prudent question is one half of wisdom.”
Law schools employ the Socratic Method ---- a method based on the power of questioning. So too is the question paramount in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and it rings through Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si [Praise Be].
Adding to the list of those who employ the power of the question is Saint Pope John Paul II, whose New Evangelization calls into question the status quo in order that evangelization is able to cope with our post-modern changing times.
Start young, be inclusive
Where, then, should the pedagogic method focus as it calls assumptions into question? Socrates wrote, “The most important part of education is proper training in the nursery.”
It will be the youth who will carry the day -- or drop the ball -- in regards to the future of ecology. One of the admired qualities of youth is their desire to change the status quo in order to create a better world. One look at student unrest reflects this revolutionary spirit. Their success will greatly depend on how well they are taught to call into question their experiences of the world.
In the parish this teaching method should not only be employed with youth; it should be the heart of adult education, homilies and part of common parlance.
In the Old Testament the prophets were forever calling into question the behavior of the Israelites. Often they were killed for their efforts, but every so often they succeeded in changing the status quo -- and in doing so exemplified the power of the prophetic spirit.
It is that same power that is needed to insure success in keeping the ecological movement strong in the days ahead.