Some time ago, I lived with a Sister who would gather up trash that was lying on the ground near a trash can and put it where it belonged. When I first saw her do this I thought, “Wow! She is so caring!” One time, because of her good deed, we missed a bus and had to wait 20 minutes for another to come along. Annoyed, I asked her, “Why do you do that? Your effort makes no difference in the world.” She barked back at me, “You don’t understand! People who throw garbage out near a can or just at the curb have no respect for the planet, their neighborhoods, and their neighbors! I do this so that folks know that someone cares and that I love them! You should too!” Her remark silenced me, quieted my anger and taught me a lesson that I am indeed a steward of creation.
As I was thinking about this story recently, I joined with the Church that evening in the Liturgy of the Hours and prayed this intercession: “Teach us the meaning and value of creation so that we may join its voice to ours as we sing Your praise.” (Common Prayer, Monday, Second Week of Lent)
How could I not remember these two moments as I turn to the next of Pope Francis’ Beatitudes for the modern day: “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.”
In Laudato Si, an encyclical penned by Pope Francis, we read, “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home…. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.” (LS 13) “Our shared home—a common good— belongs to all and is meant for all. The common good is the sum total of social conditions that allow us to access the resources and services necessary for a dignified life.” (LS 159)
Pope Francis extends the notion of common good to include all of creation, as well as future generations. This perspective is not unique to Catholic teaching. Care for God’s creation is an aspect of Catholic Social Teaching. If you want to read more on that, please visit the website at the end of this column.1
Before COVID-19 struck, I could rationally understand how the earth is our common home, but since the pandemic, I have begun to “own” this reality. The virus has shown me a perspective that what I do does have an effect on my brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world. A single action could cause a reaction on the other side of the world far beyond this current moment in time. In the scientific world, this is known as the butterfly effect2 and it stresses that each of us has an effect not only on current humanity but also on generations to come.
It has taken 30 years to fully appreciate what that Sister taught me! I bet she is smiling from heaven, knowing her actions still have an effect!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness