“An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it. I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”
The earth is a sermon.
It was crafted to tell us about God, and about ourselves who are made in His image. How fitting that it was made “through the word”, since it itself is also a living “word”. As Catholics we can’t ignore it. We must take the earth very seriously to heart.
One of the great Catholic champions of the land was an Irish-born Dominican priest named Fr. Vincent McNabb. Ordained in 1891, he tramped across London and the English countryside in monstrous second-hand boots, slept on the ground for nearly the whole of his professed life, and met his death singing, full-throated, the Nunc Dimittis.
G.K. Chesterton said of him that “he (was) one of the few great men I have met in my life”. A friend of McNabb’s said “he seemed to bring back the schoolboy conception of Friar Tuck with Robin Hood just round the corner.” His own prior said that having McNabb in the community was like “keeping a lion on a string”, the lion being McNabb’s eccentric character and passion, the string being his whole-hearted and unfailing obedience.
Fr. McNabb preached that Catholics must safeguard the earth, and pursue responsible agriculture if for no other reason than to ensure there will always be wheat for the altar bread, and grapes for the altar wine.
He saw stewardship of the earth a way to turn away from token things and back to real things themselves.
“Inside the great world of things created by the Will of God are many worlds of tokens created by the will of man. The (token-things) can excite an unsatisfied desire which can at least fill the time if not the heart of man. Far otherwise is it in the greater world of realities. The very fullness of their reality limits man’s desire. If food is needed, no man desires an infinite meal, if clothing, no man desires an infinite garment, if shelter, no man desires an infinite house…Man’s being and powers of doing have a bound which sets a limit to the things he needs.”
He recommended farming for many reasons, but one of the chief reasons was it makes a person busy producing real wealth versus token wealth, producing things people need, versus things people want. Agribusiness was not what he was recommending, which results in commodities able to be used as political tools, but rather, small traditional farms, which treating the land as a living entity, are limited by her limits, and result in a life which ennobles and not degrades, both the producer and the receiver of farm goods.
For these reasons it seems the duty of every Catholic to champion responsible stewardship of the earth. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, we ought to do little things with great love. We may not be able to farm, or get back to the land in an off-grid cabin, but we can certainly cancel our lawn services, vote with our food dollars against the poor treatment of the earth by Agribusinesses by shopping at co-ops and establishing relationships with local small farmers, and take a stab at growing some of our own food.
In doing so we will be establishing better solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the world, most of whom do not enjoy the comparative wealth that we do here in America. We will be putting ourselves out to safeguard our and our neighbor’s watersheds and wells, and our planet’s future.
It is my great hope that Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment will make us all a bit uncomfortable, and that we will be like hard-pan soil that has been disturbed and agitated so as to be more receptive to seeds that will bring new life.
“If my readers will but admit the phrase “Alma Mater Terra”-Dear Mother Earth-
I shall be encouraged to speak. But if they will not admit the phrase-their back-to-back houses,
their canned goods, their margarine, their dole, their tenement bugs and lice be on their head! I have delivered my soul!”
-Fr. Vincent McNabb-
Dear Mother Earth essay in his book Nazareth or Social Chaos first published in 1933