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October 6, 2000 Issue
Foundations of Faith

Is everything ours? Or are we standing in?

Just what does 'having dominion' mean?


Renew 2000 Season V: Renewing for the 21st Century
Week 2: Loving the Earth

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Summoned to Serve

"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good" (Gn 1:31).

God created the earth and everything in it. And we, created in God's image, are called to act as God acts. That is what received dominion over the entire earth means, as is said of humans in the Genesis 1:26 story. But what does dominion mean?

In some regards, it means just what we think it means -- dominion gives mastery and absolute power over something. This is what God has, absolute dominion. Created in God's image, humans stand in God's place. Kind of like an ambassador to a foreign country stands in for our president, or a regent stands in for an absent king. We have power, but it is surrogate power. But to understand our power, we have to understand God's power over creation. How does God dominate creation?

In the same way God does all things -- with love.

God loves creation. God cares for creation. God sustains creation. God renews creation. The Book of Wisdom (11:24-26) tells us of God's love for everything that has been made. As long as something exists, it is loved and cared for by God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing this Wisdom passage, tells us that it is God's plan that "man and woman have the vocation of 'subduing' the earth as stewards of God. This sovereignty is not to be an arbitrary and destructive domination. God calls man and woman, made in the image of the Creator 'who loves everything that exists,' to share in his providence toward other creatures; hence their responsibility for the world God has entrusted to them" (no. 373).

We may have dominion, but we also have responsibility. We are not the lords of creation, but the stewards of creation. "The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence," the Catechism reminds us.

The word steward comes from two Old English words -- one meaning "hall" and the second meaning "guardian" >From this second word, ward or weard, we also get the word "warden." That word gives us an idea of our role in creation, since we in Wisconsin have a good idea of what game wardens do: protect natural resources.

Humans have the same role, and for a very important purpose. Pope John Paul II reminds us that "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone. This is the foundation of the universal destination of the earth's goods" (Centesimus Annus, no. 31).

Last October, in anticipation of the election year, the U.S. Bishops issued Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium. In it, they said: "The world that God created has been entrusted to us, yet our use of it must be directed by God's plan of salvation, not simply our own benefit. Our stewardship of the earth is a kind of participation in God's act of creating and sustaining the world."

To determine how well we are doing our jobs as stewards, we have to look at our world. The U.S. Bishops, in their pastoral, "Economic Justice for All," reminded us that "our Christian faith calls us to contemplate God's creative and sustaining action and to measure our own collaboration with the Creator in using the earth's resources to meet human needs" (no. 216).

Are we collaborating well? In Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Bishops raised several questions:

"How will we overcome the scandal of a quarter of our preschoolers living in poverty in the richest nation on earth?"

"How will we address the tragedy of 35,000 children dying every day of the consequences of hunger, debt and lack of development around the world?"

"How will we address the growing number of families and individuals without affordable and accessible health care?"

To answer these questions, we can look to the social teachings of the Church. One of these, the Vatican II document on The Church in the Modern World (par. 69-70), offers some guidelines:

Resources are for the benefit of all. "We must never lose sight of this universal destination of earthly goods. In his use of things man should regard the eternal goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself."

The right to private ownership. "Every man has the right to possess a sufficient amount of the earth's goods for himself and his family."

People have to take what they need. "When a person is in extreme necessity, he has the right to supply himself with what he needs out of the riches of others." Of course, the ideal is that no one needs to take, but that what is needed is shared.

We must keep an eye to the future. The Council Fathers also said that there must be "a rightful balance between the needs of present-day consumption, individual and collective and the requirements of investment for future generations."

These guidelines, along with the questions raised in Faithful Citizenship, help remind us that our role as stewards brings us all the good things of creation, but that strings of responsibilities are attached. And those strings are heart strings, since our responsibilities arise from love.

Guidance in answering the above questions can be found in the prayer Jesus taught us, and which many people say each day. We have been given our daily bread. How well do we, in turn, share?

"'Our' bread is the 'one' loaf for the 'many.' In the Beatitudes 'poverty' is the virtue of sharing: it calls us to communicate and share both material and spiritual goods, not by coercion but out of love, so that the abundance of some may remedy the needs of others" (Catechism, no. 2833).

(Sources: "The Church in the Modern World; "Economic Justice For All;" "Centesimus Annus;" "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium;" Catechism of the Catholic Church; Webster's Dictionary)



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