First published in The Criterion on September 9, 2016.
Remember the line “Finish everything on your plate; there are starving children in China?” How crazy was that?
What did it matter what we ate or did not eat to those across the world? And yet I wondered, are we not connected in some deep and unseen way to all people and places on this Earth?
Indeed, Pope Francis states, “We are … called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust on our planet” (“Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” #10).
We are all interconnected, and our daily choices impact other people and our world. Just purchasing a chocolate bar may contribute to child labor in West Africa, the deforestation of rain forests, and the survival of multiple species.
It is overwhelming. How can we live in a way that builds up and does not oppress? How can we know the impact of our decisions? We cannot by ourselves. But we can grow in awareness of these interconnections by growing in Christian simplicity. Simplicity is more than an absence of luxury; simplicity is freedom from attachments.
In his book A Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster describes simplicity as “the only thing that sufficiently re-orients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.”
Simplicity begins with a singular focus on seeking the kingdom of God, the “pearl of great price” that orients all aspects of our lives. All our decisions must begin with this focus.
Jesus also teaches us that we cannot serve God and mammon (Lk 16:13). If our wealth becomes our focus, all is lost. We will oppress the poor and abuse the gifts of creation. If our choices are driven by addictions or lead to the oppression of others, then we are not living Christian simplicity.
So how can we know? First, we begin with prayer. Thank God for our abundant blessings, especially the gift of creation. Ask for guidance and support in seeking God’s will. Over time, our choices will depend less on our desires and more on the will of God for each of us. The more we realize our dependence on God, the more we will care for all of creation.
Second, seek concrete ways to build the kingdom of God on Earth. We have many resources online: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/environment), Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org), and Catholic Ecology (catholicecology.net) are a few.
We also have each other. Pope Francis is specifically asking us to be in dialogue, to grow together in awareness of our place and role in God’s creation. It is important to share our beliefs, assumptions and hopes, and to listen to others as they share.
And we need to be open to growth. St. Benedict says to “listen with the ear of your heart.” Be open to the movement of the spirit.
Lastly, observe your own world each day with a different eye. The wonders of creation are right before us, but we miss much in the distractions of our culture. If we can listen with new ears and see with new eyes, creation will never fail to amaze us.
During this Season of Creation, which runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 4, Pope Francis is calling us to take good care of creation—a freely given gift—cultivating it and protecting it for future generations (www.seasonofcreation.org). May we also in this Holy Year of Mercy protect the most vulnerable on our planet.
(Benedictine Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick resides at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove and is a member of the ArchIndy Creation Care Commission).