Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sharing Our Catholic Social Values with Others Through Collaboration

Below is a talk for a Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) parish committee on the topic of sharing our Catholic social values with others. Through the use of the topic of infused and acquired cardinal virtues, I hope to persuade the audience that we, as Catholics, can work together with environmentalists and conservationists of other faith traditions, and even with atheists, in our “care-for-creation” endeavors. As we work with others, we will be sharing our values and spirituality. There is the mindset among some Catholics that all environmentalists and conservationists are left-wing, hippie, tree huggers that should be avoided and ignored. I hope to demonstrate that, even though we might have different goals, or ends, our actions with respect to the environment and care-for-creation are the same in many cases and we can work together in partnership. It is assumed that the audience already believes in the importance of caring for creation, so the majority of my talk is directed to comparing care-for-creation, which has a supernatural end, with environmentalism and conservationism, which both have natural ends.

- Bro. Jeffrey, T.O.R.


I am going to discuss how we, as Catholics, can share our values and spirituality with others, especially with those outside of the Church, through our care-for-creation endeavors. I’m sure that you all have heard about St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists, and the great love and respect he had for all of God’s creation. Even to the point of calling all created things his brother or sister: Brother Sun and Sister Moon; Brother Fire and Sister Water; Brother Wolf and Sister Bird. He had a unique insight that God loves all creation and that created things mirror God. Francis’ love for all created things came from his love for God. Likewise, our desire and work for the caring of God’s creation comes from our love for God. Every action that we perform has a purpose, or goal.[1] As human beings, our ultimate goal in life is our true happiness which is to be united with God for all eternity.[2] We can achieve this only by doing God’s will in response to God’s gifts of faith and grace. So, the ultimate goal of caring for creation is a supernatural goal: the doing of God’s will because we love Him.[3]

Now I am going to make a statement that might be a little controversial for some of you. We, as Catholics, can work in caring for creation by cooperating and partnering with non-Christians and, dare I say it, even atheists. Many of the things that we do in caring for creation are the same things that atheist and non-Christian conservationists and environmentalists do. The difference is that we are ultimately working towards a supernatural goal which requires God’s gift of grace to know, while they are working towards a natural goal, or a goal that can be known through unaided reason. However, this distinction does not mean that we cannot all work together or that we cannot achieve our supernatural goal and their natural goals simultaneously.

I want to take a moment and briefly discuss conservationism and environmentalism in general. First, conservationism is concerned mainly with consumption. Its goal is to conserve the earth’s natural resources for the present and future generations. These natural resources include fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas; animals that are used for food such as the world’s fish population; natural wilderness and beaches that are used for recreation; etc. So, conservationists do certain things, or perform certain actions, in the pursuit of conserving natural resources for the present and future generations. For example, they work to recycle, to conserve water, and reduce pollution, among many other things. Secondly, environmentalism is concerned mainly with preserving ecospheres, or the interdependence of living organisms (including humans) in an environment. Its goal is to ensure the health, integrity, and wellbeing of the world’s ecospheres. So, environmentalists do certain things, or perform certain actions, in pursuit of protecting the environment. For example, they work to recycle, to conserve water, and reduce pollution, among many other things. Sound familiar? Even though they have different goals, conservationists and environmentalists do some of the same things to achieve their respective goals. Likewise, we, as Catholics, in caring for creation, work to recycle, to conserve water, and reduce pollution. However, the goal of caring for creation is to do the will of God. God made us stewards of this world; He “who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, But formed it to be inhabited” (Isa 45:18 NAS). Your dedicated involvement in the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation committee demonstrates your understanding of this important point. So I don’t want to preach to the choir, so to speak, about the importance of caring for creation. But I do want to stress that the ultimate goal and purpose of caring for creation is to do the will of God. And doing the will of God aids in achieving the ultimate goal and purpose of every human being: our true happiness, the union with God for all eternity.

In addition to being directed towards particular purposes, or goals, the actions performed in caring for creation, conservationism, and environmentalism are all virtuous, particularly in respect to justice. “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” [4] or, in other words, it is a good state that makes one good and able to perform one’s function, as a human being, well. Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues which are the hinges of all other virtues and concern our natural flourishing as human beings. Simply put, justice is the good state of one’s actions in relation to others.[5] It is giving others what is due them.[6] Thus, the actions of conservationism are just actions in that they give to the current and future generations what is due them, that is, the use of natural resources. The actions of environmentalism are just actions in that they give to others what is due them, that is, healthy ecosystems to live in. The actions of caring for creation are just actions in that they give to God what is due Him, that is, the responsible stewardship of His creation in conjunction with His divine plan and will.[7] However, the justice of conservationism and environmentalism is an acquired virtue with a natural goal, or purpose. It is acquired by habitual, or consistently repeated, actions. In a certain way, acquiring the virtue of justice it is similar to acquiring the good habit of exercising. To develop the habit of good exercise, one must continually work at it. It is only by forcing oneself to endure the initial discomfort of exercise that one can build up the good habit of exercise. Likewise, as with the acquired virtue of justice, one must consistently do just actions to gain the habit, or virtue, of justice. Once achieved, one will be inclined to do just actions in the future. Acquired virtues are achieved in conjunction with unaided reason, and thus, have a natural goal.

In contrast, caring for creation, as said before, has a supernatural goal and its justice is an infused cardinal virtue because its attainment is aided by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.[8] But by practicing the infused cardinal virtue of justice, we can also, at the same time, attain the natural end justice it is directed towards.[9] Thus, through our care-for-creation endeavors, our actions are just actions in relation to God by doing His will and they are also just actions in relation to our fellow human beings by giving them use of natural resources and healthy ecosystems to live in.

So in summary, care-for-creation, conservationism, and environmentalism share some of the same actions in pursuit of different goals. We, as Catholics, in our care-for-creation endeavors have a higher goal, a supernatural goal, which is the doing of God’s will. We do this not out of obligation, but out of love for God, in the hope of achieving of our ultimate goal and purpose in life which is our true happiness; the union with God for all eternity. We can better achieve our care-for-creation plans by cooperating and working with non-Christian and atheist conservationists and environmentalists. Doing so will not only allow us to achieve our supernatural goal, but we can share our Catholic values and spirituality and become conduits for God’s grace in their lives and facilitate their personal conversion. As Pope John Paul II wrote, “Nor does divine Providence deny the helps that are necessary for salvation to those who, through no fault of their own have not yet attained to the express recognition of God, yet who strive, not without divine grace, to lead an upright life. For whatever goodness and truth is found in them is considered by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel and bestowed by him who enlightens everyone that they may in the end have life.”[10]


[1] Throughout the talk, I will refer to our teleological nature to be directed towards an end as directed towards a goal. So, the terms “purpose” and “goal” are synonymous with “end” and the term “ultimate goal” is synonymous with “final end”. Aristotle explains, “What, then, is the good of each action or craft? Surely it is that for the sake of which the other things are done; […] but in every action and decision it is the end, since it is for the sake of the end that everyone does the other actions” (Nicomachean Ethics; Book 1, Chapter 7, 1097a:15-20).

[2] As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “Now it is clear that whatever actions proceed from a power, are caused by that power in accordance with the nature of its object. But the object of the will is the end and the good. Therefore all human actions must be for an end” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 1, Article 1). He also states, “In the first sense, then, man's last end is the uncreated good, namely, God, Who alone by His infinite goodness can perfectly satisfy man's will. But in the second way, man's last end is something created, existing in him, and this is nothing else than the attainment or enjoyment of the last end. Now the last end is called happiness. If, therefore, we consider man's happiness in its cause or object, then it is something uncreated; but if we consider it as to the very essence of happiness, then it is something created” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 3, Article 1).

[3] St. Augustine states, “If virtue leads us to the happy life, then I would not define virtue in any other way than as the perfect love of God. For in speaking of virtue as fourfold, one refers, as I understand it, to the various dispositions of love itself” (The Way of Life of the Catholic Church, p. 22).

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph 1803.

[5] “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes on to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good” (CCC, paragraph 1807).

[6] According to Aquinas, “[…] every virtue that causes the good of right and due in operation, be called justice […]. […] justice, the virtue which is about due actions between equals” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 61, Article 3) “the formal principle of the virtue of which we speak is good as defined by reason […]. […] according as the reason puts its order into something else; either into operations, and then we have “Justice”[…]” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 61, Article 2).

[7] St. Augustine explains, “[…] justice is love serving alone that which is loved and thus ruling rightly […] not love of things in general, but rather love of God, that is, of the supreme good, the supreme wisdom, and the supreme harmony, we can define the virtues thus: […] justice is love serving God alone and, therefore, ruling well those things subject to man […]” (The Way of Life of the Catholic Church, p. 22-23).

[8] Servais Pinckaers explains, “The virtue of the philosophers, no matter how elevated and open it may be, leaves the human person alone in his efforts, always tempted to enclose himself in his own excellence. The infusion of love into the roots of the virtues effects a vital transformation: By placing us in communion with the person of Christ, charity renders us so receptive to the motion of his Spirit that we can no longer regard our virtues as our own property. Although they remain something deeply personal within us, they have become the property of the one who now inspires them. […] the involvement of the Holy Spirit in our growth in virtue shows us that the Spirit acts in us through the normal paths of daily effort, rather than through extraordinary revelations, sudden motions, or exceptional charisms” (Morality: The Catholic View, p. 87-88).

[9] Aquinas explains, “And because such happiness surpasses the capacity of human nature, man’s natural principles which enable him to act well according to his capacity, do not suffice to direct man to his same happiness. Hence it is necessary for man to receive from God some additional principles, whereby he may be directed to supernatural happiness, even as he is directed to his connatural end, by means of his natural principles, albeit not without Divine assistance” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 62, Article 1).

[10] Pope John Paul II quoting the Second Vatican Council in Veritatis Splendor – The Splendor of Truth, paragraph 3.