Pro-planet, pro-life

Milford beach

by Sue Jones

Conversion life is the lot of Catholics. If sin can be defined broadly as a refusal to live, then at the heart of turning from sin to live the Gospel is a pro-life attitude. In former times, this attitude, living amongst the laity, gave birth to a pro-life movement to protect the unborn child. It was a bit of a mission to get it going. Today, Catholics are charged with a prolife mission of a seemingly less personal nature; that of ecological conversion.

Lay life has moved away from its basic, unheralded conversion life, which keeps the Church honest to God and on track to holiness. Those left in the Church are encouraged towards more heralded activities. In this shift of emphasis, our Catholic pro-life attitude has become less lively, less inheritable. This should concern those who want us to be pro-planet and live ecological conversion.

The Pope puts much emphasis on the social teachings of the Church, and the particular sinfulness which brings human beings into toxic relationships with their earthly home. Because the planet is in a bad way, there is an urgency and novelty about living ecological conversion, which is absent from the more old-fashioned sacramental conversion life. At times it can seem as if the two are separate and in competition.

Any sort of Catholic conversion life seems to make Catholics think they are saving something; our souls, secular society, the Church, the planet. Our goals tend to be formed around our judgement about what is wrong with life on
earth, and what corrective action is needed. A green ideology and green action fit into this way of thinking. That might be good enough for Greta Thunberg, but is it pro-life enough for Catholics?

Wisdom teaches us that, if we point our life directly at our chosen goal, that goal will likely elude us. When that happens, we tend not to look to ourselves, never contemplate the possibility that we might be part of the problem. In this world of change and progress, we just move forward to another goal, and repeat the same mistakes in different ways. Our well-intentioned efforts to save the planet may be “Christ-like”, but are we bringing to those efforts a lively, inheritable pro-life attitude?

Christian baptism brings us into the life of Christ. As Catholics, we are invited to get much closer to Christ than a simulative life can bring us. We are called to live “in Christ”, which is not the same thing as being “Christ-like”. The former shows a willingness to be part of a world in which original sin exists, being a sinner amongst sinners. The latter cultivates a distinctive dislike of being part of the sinful world, preferring to look in on it and solve its problems.

Wherever it is found amongst active Christians, this problem-solving attitude has a very subtle, anti-life whiff about it. It may be “Christlike”; it may have a bit of repurposed spirituality tacked on to it, but at the end of the day it works against the mission of the Church, rather than for it. G.K. Chesterton had the right idea. When asked, “what’s wrong with the world?” he said simply, “I am”. Was the man crazy?

Pope Francis says that Laudato Si’, his encyclical letter on the environment, is not a “green” papal letter. In his book Let Us Dream he says, “Laudato Si’ links the scientific consensus on the destruction of the environment with our self-forgetting, our rejection of who we are as creatures of a loving Creator, living inside his creation, but at odds with it. It’s the sadness of a humanity rich in know-how, but lacking in the inner security of knowing ourselves as creatures of God’s love, a knowledge expressed in our simultaneous respect for God, for each other and for creation.”

Living “in Christ” means living conversion life inside Love, inside conversion, inside God’s created order of the world. “In Christ”, everything and everyone is already saved, and green change and graced change are sisters. Turning from sin to live the Gospel is such a simple and honest thing to do in an increasingly anti-life world. Yet we refuse to do it, because there is a complex force at work in Christianity which will not let us see the pro-life message of the Gospel and apply it, in unheralded ways, to our lives. It seems crazy that Catholics should believe that love of life “in Christ” can work for the betterment of everything and everyone, but it does. As the Toyota ad for the Americas Cup said, “in crazy we believe.”

Sue Jones is a writer from Mahia Beach.

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