Every April 22 since 1970 we have celebrated Earth Day, a commemoration and day dedicated to activism on behalf of the environment. Founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, it arose in the wake of the peace and civil rights movements of the late 1960s and Nelson’s own dismay at the pollution caused by an oil spill along the coast of Santa Barbara, CA.
Since its founding, Earth Day has grown to be celebrated across the United States and abroad (although there are also other days internationally that likewise draw out attention to environmental issues and care for creation). Additionally, a nonprofit organization named Earth Day Network was formed to assist in the promotion and organization of this annual event. It has proposed specific, direct action each year, suggesting that people plant trees in honor of Earth Day 2016.
As people of faith, especially in this first Earth Day after the release of Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical letter Laudato Si, we should be particularly attentive to our call to act in solidarity with what the pope has called our Sister who “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (LS no. 2).
Our Christian faith challenges us to be aware of the injustice and sin we perpetuate and for which we are responsible in the harm we cause other-than-human creation by our deliberate actions, our complicity in structures of environmental degradation and climate change, and our sins of omission when we choose to ignore the plight that faces what Pope Francis calls “our common home.”
I encourage everybody to pray, to take action, and to be more aware of our inherent relationship with the rest of creation today.
In terms of prayer, consider reflecting on the prayer Pope Francis offers at the end of Laudato Si.
In terms of action, there are many different ways to get involved. For example, tomorrow I’m participating in a road race that is raising money for the World Wildlife Foundation, which is an organization that works to prevent species extinction worldwide. There are also opportunities to engage in political action and gatherings of solidarity. Consider visiting the Catholic Climate Movement or the Franciscan Action Network, both of which are just two of the many Catholic organizations that promote justice and the integrity of creation. There are many, many events around the country and world — consider getting involved in a little or big way.
Finally, in terms of being more aware of our inherent relationship with all of creation, consider reading the Genesis accounts of creation in books 1 and 2 and reflecting on the way, especially in Genesis 2, that human beings are formed from and as part of the earth. We are literally ha-adamah, made “from the earth” or “earthlings.” The natural sciences only affirm this reality, showing that human beings are physically made of the same material as everything else in the cosmos.
As the Franciscan St. Bonaventure acclaimed, all of creation is a “vestige” (bears an imprint) of the Creator, reflecting the presence of God to us. May we open our eyes to see God in our world and recognize the Spirit that gives life to all creation!