What’s your favorite natural place on Earth?
When I ask this question during talks I give around the diocese, you can probably guess the one answer I hear the most often: the Jersey Shore. What is it about the beach that appeals to us so much?
I decided to ask one of my favorite beach-loving friends what he likes about it. So on a recent rainy morning, I walked from my office at the diocesan headquarters across the street to the rectory of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for a conversation with world-renowned artist and Camden resident Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS. Lots of his paintings are set at the beach, including the recent one reproduced here, which he created during a trip to the shore this past winter. It was one of his favorite times at the beach.
“A terrible storm was coming up and I went out and stood on the beach for an hour, just watching the waves,” Brother Mickey told me. “It was both scary and mesmerizing at the same time, and filled me with awe and wonder. I think that’s what the beach does for us — awe and wonder, things we don’t have enough of in our lives anymore.”
The ocean is truly awe-inspiring: Its size is unimaginable, its power unmeasurable. Spending time at the beach always strengthens my faith. If something like the ocean can be so full of wonder, how much more awesome is the master craftsman who made it?
Pope Francis takes on this theme in his beautiful encyclical letter Laudato Si’, which is a clarion call to the global community to care for the planet. “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God,” he writes, and then continues on to describe how certain places like the shore are so good for our spirits: “The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighborhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.”
When we spend time in those awe-inspiring places that are important to us like the shore, our appreciation for the natural world and its creator can grow. And, hopefully, as our appreciation deepens, so does our desire to take care of the planet. As Earth Day approaches on April 22, here are just three ways people of faith can show reverence for this incredibly beautiful gift God has given us:
- Read and reflect on Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Si’. You can access the whole letter for free on the Vatican’s website. Pope Francis lays out the Catholic theological case for caring for creation in a way that doesn’t take any advanced religious study to understand. He emphasizes the fact that caring for the environment and caring for those who are poor and vulnerable are always interconnected, as environmental degradation and climate change always have a disproportionate impact on those who live in poverty. (Think of subsistence farmers who struggle to continue growing the same crops if average temperature near them increases even a degree or two.) Gather a small group of disciples to discuss the document and see what actions you might take in response to the Holy Father’s message.
- Start a Creation Care Team at your parish or school. Log on to the website www.catholicclimatecovenant.org to learn about what these teams can do within your faith community. Parishes and schools use a lot of energy and have great opportunities to make a positive impact on the environment. Some projects that these teams can help lead include starting a community garden, coming up with an action plan to help reduce waste and energy usage at your church or school, and leading legislative advocacy campaigns to encourage elected leaders to enact laws that better protect the environment.
- Integrate reverence for creation into your everyday life. Drive less and bike or walk more. Turn off lights when you’re not using them. Cut down on food waste, and, what you don’t eat, compost. Log on to the website Catholics Confront Global Poverty (www.confrontglobalpoverty.org) and send an email to your congressional representative and senators to urge them to help people facing hunger and climate change. Spend quiet, prayerful time outdoors.
It doesn’t take much to show that we treasure God’s gift of Planet Earth. Let’s do what we can to preserve the gift for future generations to enjoy.
Mike Jordan Laskey is vice chancellor for the City of Camden and director of Life & Justice Ministries.