By NEIL VANEY
Start at the very beginning
Psychologists tell us that, if you want to become a more loving person, you start by carrying out works of love. Likewise, if you are open to “ecological conversion”, the best place to start is in your own backyard. Planting a garden, learning to compost, putting a beehive on your back lawn, are not too difficult – I know a number of people who have done this. Many New Zealand suburbs were once forests. What are the trees that used to grow where you live? What trees grow there now? What birds visit your garden? (It is not hard installing a bird-feeder). And what birds used to nest around there? Forest and Bird societies will help you with such knowledge.
Pope Francis encourages us to become familiar with the beauty hidden in our hills and mountains. We are so blessed in having easy access to wilderness here in New Zealand. Join a walking or tramping group and get out occasionally from the hum and congestion of the city to taste the openness and serenity of our national parks. (cf Laudato Si’ (LS) 234)
Caring for creation
There are hosts of small steps we can take to start moving away from a consumer dominated lifestyle. Laudato Si’ 211 briefly lists some of these. Over much of the planet, water is becoming a precious resource – let’s not squander it. Using as little plastic and cardboard packaging as we can is a good step into recycling. Try to reuse food that is left over; don’t just throw it out. When it gets cold, don’t just automatically turn on the heat pump; put on one of our lovely warm kiwi woollen sweaters. If you live in a five–person household, ask if you really need five cars. Could you use public transport or share one of the cars more often?
There are ancient practices in the Church’s history that sharpen spiritual awareness. Fasting, for instance, is an ancient practice, but a very relevant one in societies where so many people are overweight (LS 216) We are also being advised that at least two days a week should be alcohol–free. The Pope has recommended that we commit ourselves to a meat–free day at least once a week; also that we put aside the first Saturday or Sunday of each month for a time of prayer and thanksgiving for the beauty of creation, perhaps using the chance for a family picnic or outing amidst our stunning scenery.
Another aspect of growing ecological awareness is consciously to battle against the blandishments of advertising always inviting us to buy more and more. Can I bring a more critical eye to the screens I look at by asking myself, do I really need this? At least once a year, do I make a thorough stock–take of my wardrobes and drawers and shelves, asking what clothes, shoes or books have I not used in the last year, to do some pruning, which can then be a donation to the nearest St Vincent de Paul centre or store. If some goods or channels are frankly noxious, could I motivate my friends and colleagues to boycott them publicly, as there is nothing firms hate more than bad publicity. (LS 203)
The power of imagination
Because a shift to a more ecologically–balanced world will demand so many drastic social and economic changes, and seems to be slow in coming about, it is easy to become discouraged. We think that nobody else is doing this, and that my small efforts are pointless in the face of the huge changes that are called for. We can also believe that we humans have so disfigured the face of nature that there can be no going back. So, it does our heart good to look at images of remarkable restoration projects such as Bamberger Ranch in Texas. Fifty years ago, it was sun–bleached desert. Today, it is home to a huge variety of plants and animals, and a running stream waters the once–sterile soil. There are thousands of such projects all over the world.
We can contrast such images of hope with the sort of world our children and grandchildren could be inheriting, without forests or jungles, with only images of creatures such as rhinoceroses or elephants or whales. What an impoverished world that would be. When the Bolsheviks helped bring about the collapse of Tsarist Russia in 1917, it is estimated that there were only about 15,000 of them in a population of over ninety million. They were totally dedicated, with simple and clear strategies. If enough Christians saw the saving of our planet as part of our ecological redemption and holiness, what forces could stand against them?
- Fr Neil Vaney, SM, is pastoral director of The Catholic Enquiry Centre NZ. This is the final one of four reflections by Fr Vaney on Laudato Si’ published in NZ Catholic this year.