3.5.3 ‘Living life to the full’ with all creation

Back to 3.5.2

Unit 3 Contents

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Deane-Drummond says that, according to Pope John Paul II, ecologically responsible living is “not simply an optional extra for Christian discipleship, but the very means through which humans… express the image of God” (p. 7; italics original; I quoted part of this earlier).

John Paul put it like this: “The human creature receives a mission to govern creation in order to make all its potential shine” (quoted on 3.3.5).

‘Living life to the full’ is the title of the module.  Our study in this unit makes it fairly obvious that, according to CST, one really important dimension of what it means to live to the full is to live well with the rest of nature, in tune with it – fulfilling the distinctly human role of taking care of it, enabling it to shine.

Of course, there is much more to say about what living to the full means, as the units to follow will show.  But fulfilment of ecological responsibility is a basic part.

It should be clear that this is to be at least as much a joy as a burden!  Expressing just one aspect of how it can be, Pope Benedict said this in his 2010 World Peace Day Message:

[M]any people experience peace and tranquillity, renewal and reinvigoration, when they come into close contact with the beauty and harmony of nature. There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. (#13)

Just about the most important point that comes out of this unit is that the Church’s vision of what it means to live well is deeply different from the mechanistic consumerism that has come to dominate much of the world.  The Christian vision is one of Christ-like stewardship within creation and, most importantly, communion with God and neighbour.  Our study of ‘the image of God’ in 3.3 showed this.

Exercising ecological responsibility is fundamentally not a matter of ascetic denial of the benefits of material things.  Rather, it is putting these, which are gifts to us in the good creation, in their proper place. It is a reorienting our whole life so that we can be in right relationship with God and other human beings, and then also with the rest of nature.

Christianity should generate a profoundly different and a better way of living than the ceaseless striving to maximize ‘utility’ or ‘preference satisfaction’ towards which Western modernity pushes us strongly.

To recall Pope John Paul’s expression, that is ‘ecological conversion’.

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Reflection

As I asked earlier (3.3.3), are you converted?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

In other words, what do find to be the most attractive and convincing aspects of this way of understanding humanity and ecological responsibility?  What do you think are its weaknesses or flaws?

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We now focus on what CST on ecology means we should do in practice – each person, as families, in local churches, at workplaces, through politics.

Spend a few minutes looking back at what we have studied before we come to that.

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EXERCISE

Bring to mind what this unit has covered, first by opening the Contents page here, and then by scanning through those parts of it that strike you as most significant for how people live and what they actually do.

Makes some initial notes on what it might mean for you and others in your context to live in tune with the rest of nature and to fulfil the responsibility of God-given dominion within it?

THERE IS NO RESPONSE ON SCREEN TO THIS EXERCISE.

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To conclude the unit, you are asked to do three things: a short reading from McCarthy’s book; look at some websites; and, on the next screen, review what you have learnt.

In doing these, keep in mind the point implied in that reflection – one that is both a statement of the obvious and a warning.  Given differences of social context, there is no single answer to the question of what needs to be done in practice that is applicable to everybody. You and others in your particular context – locality, city, nation, etc. – have to work out what it means for you.

This doesn’t give an invitation to dodge the challenge.  Rather, it recognizes the reality that people are in diverse circumstances and grow up with different habits and practices in relation to the rest of nature.

To illustrate, Bangladeshi delta fishermen engage with non-human nature very differently from third-generation descendants of Bangladeshis who moved to the UK 40 years ago.  People living on the southern edges of the Sahara, as desert extends across the land they have depended on, thanks partly to global warming (most experts agree), face sharply different challenges of ecological responsibility from those living in sprawling urban areas designed on the assumption that almost all travel in them will be by car.

The reading is the ‘Discussion’ section at the end of the chapter by Henning which you read earlier.  In light of Henning’s account of CST on ecology, McCarthy addresses what action people in the USA can take in relation to climate change.

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Reading (3pp)

D. McCarthy, ‘Common Cause or Someone Else’s Problem’ – ‘Discussion’ following Henning’s chapter in McCarthy, ed., The Heart of Catholic Social Teaching, p. 190-193

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Reflection

To what extent is what McCarthy says relevant for people in the UK?

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At the very start of the unit you looked at a page on the website of Christian Ecology Link which listed ‘Eight ways to live gently on the earth’.  (To see it again click here.)  In the ‘Reading’ below, Christian Ecology Link is the first of a number of Christian bodies and initiatives listed that are seeking to face the challenge of ecological responsibility in the UK.

Spend some time looking round their websites, giving attention especially to what they advocate is needed in practice.  This might be changes in personal lifestyles, things local churches could do differently, or campaigning for wider economic or political change.

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Reading  (= c.12pp)

Christian Ecology Link

Ecocongregation  This is “an ecumenical programme helping churches make the link between environmental issues and Christian faith, and respond in practical action”.  It operates in several different countries and the link takes you to the international portal.

At www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk, see the pages on Care for Creation.

Live Simply Award – for Catholic parishes

A Rocha

Operation Noah   This focuses on climate change (I referred to it in 3.2.6).

At CAFOD website, see Get clued up: Climate. CAFOD is the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development

See also The Climate Coalition, a group of over 100 organisations that campaigns on climate change.  It is currently (in 2014) chaired by CAFOD, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.

Amber Links   This site “aims to provide an easy-to-use, independent ‘doorway’” that takes people to bodies and websites addressing the main ecological challenges.

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End of 3.5.3

Go to 3.5.4 Review and discussion of Unit 3

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