Pope Francis kisses a boy as he arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (June 5, 2013)
William L. Patenaude, a regular CWR contributor
has penned some thoughts on the Holy Father's general audience
yesterday, which focused on ecology and the "culture of waste".
The US Environmental Protection Agency reports
in 1960 the United States produced some 88 million tons of municipal
waste. In 2010 that number climbed to just under 250 million tonsand it
may have been higher had a recession not slowed consumption. This jump
reflects an almost 184 percent increase in what Americans throw out even
though our population increased by only 60 percent.
This disparate increase has much to do
with what we buy, the quantities thereof, its expected use-life, how it
is packaged, and how the packaging itself is packaged, wrapped,
surrounded with polystyrene, cardboard, and shrink-wrap. Even simple
items like lettuce and chewing gum now come in plastic containers that
we use ever so briefly and then throw away. While recycling has trimmed
the tonnage being trucked to landfills, America is still a nation that
consumes and wastes much more than it ever has. The question is: Why?
Pope Francis provided some answers in his first major statement on ecologynatural and human. His sweeping eco-comments at Wednesday’s General Audience
us much to consider. But one theme in particular dominated his wordsa
theme that follows quite naturally from his predecessor, who he quoted
throughout his audience.
Man is not in charge today,
money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of
caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have
this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit
and consumption: it is the “culture of waste.”
Western culturesand those tempted to follow the ways of the Westhave
come to expect that one can and deserves to attain and consume whatever
(and whomever) one wants. Advertisements not only insist that you can
have it your way and have as much as you want, but that you deserve to
have whatever it is that’s being soldeven if you have lived all these
years quite well without it. The makers of such ads understand the
fractures in the human soul. They intuitively know that the effects of
original sin can be used as a foothold for profit. They create
characters and settings that excite our passions. They use language that
tugs at our insecurities and at the faint awareness of our
incompletenessa lack of love that all humans crave to fill. In all, the
vocation of advertising has become a means to convince us that
fulfillment comes only from the attainment of earthly goods.
Read the entire post on the "Catholic Ecology" site.
One thing I appreciate about Patenaude's writings on ecology is that he
grounds it in a deeply orthodox and theologically informed perspective.
In addition, he is not given to overstatements and sweeping declarations
that often mark (or marr) the writings of secular environmentalists.
Sadly, many good Catholics, for a variety of reasons, flinch or
otherwise recoil in horror at the mention of "ecology" or "the
environment." It shouldn't be that way. Yes, there is a lot to debate
and there is certainly a fair amount of both disinformation and
confusion when it comes to matters related to the environment. All the
more reason for serious, orthodox Catholics to study it, read about it,
reflect on it, and pay heed to what recent popes have said about it.