The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 6, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks'
Renew 2000 Column

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Stop and think how closely tied we are to earth

God has given us a wonderful gift that we should care about, and for

By Bishop Robert Banks

This week's topic for RENEW 2000 is Loving the Earth.

I'm not sure I am up to loving the earth just yet, but I do very much respect it and even like it. We had better like it, since without this planet and its gravity holding us on to it, we would be shooting off into space. And now that I think of that picture of planet earth taken by the astronauts when they went to the moon, I do love the beauty of that white and blue sphere hanging in the air.

Perhaps the best reaction to earth is that familiar phrase we all say at every Mass, "Blessed be God forever." In a sense, earth is God's first gift to us, and everything material that we are and have ultimately comes from earth. Even our thoughts, dreams and feelings of love ultimately depend on the earth, since they would not exist without our minds and hearts. Only our spirit or soul has a different origin.

Frankly, one of the benefits of my coming to northeast Wisconsin from Boston has been the deeper appreciation I have of my episcopal motto, Blessed be God forever! The motto comes from the dialogue between priest and congregation at the Presentation of the Gifts in Mass, and it reflects my appreciation of God's goodness in general and especially in the Eucharist.

But it is only since I arrived in Wisconsin that I have paid attention to the fact that, in that dialogue, we are thanking God for bread that comes from the earth and for wine that is fruit of the vine. Though both come into being through human effort, neither would be possible without God's gift of the earth. It is so easy to be conscious of the importance of both the earth and the human effort when you look out from the altar through the church door to the farm land all around. The sight almost forces you to say, Blessed be God forever!

With a little more thought, you realize that there really is no material gift that you can offer to God that ultimately does not come from God's gift of the earth. Whether it is bread or wine or gold or a child's drawing, they all ultimately come from earth. With God's inspiration, our spirit lifts them up in love and thanksgiving.

So there has to be a deep respect, and maybe we can call it love, for this precious gift of God.

There are some, however, who almost deify planet earth. They can make it sound as if we almost owe the earth some kind of worship. But the earth is like any idol. It came into existence at some point in time, and it will cease to exist in some point of time. Thanks be to God we are living at that very brief time in its existence when it allows for human life. For most of the billions of years of its existence, it has been and uninhabitable by human beings.

Our responsibility is to use well the years in which the earth can sustain human life. That means respecting the environment, conserving resources that will eventually be exhausted, and caring for the area in which we live.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays out briefly these responsibilities: "Use of the mineral, vegetable and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation." (n. 2415)

The United States, as one of the world's biggest and richest developed nations, has a special responsibility to take seriously the need to respect the environment and conserve the earth's limited resources. We have the money and power to acquire, and overuse, resources from all around the world.

I think it is for this reason that our Holy Father in his letter to the Church in America, meaning this hemisphere, lifted up the obligations of believers in regard to the environment. "Fulfillment of these obligations supposes an openness to a spiritual and ethical perspective capable of overcoming selfish attitudes and 'lifestyles which lead to the depletion of natural resources'… all people of good will must work to ensure the effective protection of the environment, understood as a gift from God."

He went on to lament what is happening in much of North and South America: "How much ecological abuse and destruction there is in many parts of America! It is enough to think of the uncontrolled emission of harmful gases or the dramatic phenomenon of forest fires, sometimes deliberately set by selfish interest… This is an especially urgent problem in the forests of Amazonia."

It is a temptation now to point out specific areas that I think need attention, but I shall leave that to my readers and to the RENEW 2000 groups. It seems that each person or group of environmentalists has their own priorities, and there are certainly enough areas where conservation and respect for the environment are needed. Unfortunately, there is also plenty of room for disagreement as to what should be done. My small contribution to the discussion will be Blessed be God forever!

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