The Dispatch: More from CWR...

“New lifestyles”

What we are all experiencing—and will experience—in this stormy sea will teach us three lessons, the kind that catastrophes oft remind the human race.

Pope Francis leads a prayer service in an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 27, 2020. At the conclusion of the service the pope held the Eucharist as he gave an extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world). The service was livestreamed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.” — Pope Francis, Extraordinary Moment of Prayer, Urbi et Orbi, March 27, 2020

Listening to the Holy Father during yesterday’s stunning and truly historic moment in Saint Peter’s Square, I could not help but remember these words of his predecessor:

“What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new life-styles ‘in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.’” (Italics in original)

Benedict XVI wrote this in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, quoting Saint John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. This sentiment and those encyclicals, and others, were foundational to Pope Francis’s eco-teachings—most especially his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’—and they have culminated in the Holy Father’s quite extraordinary message yesterday, given to the world in an empty, rain-swept Saint Peter’s Square on a darkening Friday evening in Lent

The interconnectedness of papal teachings should come as no surprise (although for many, sadly, it does). After all, the interconnectedness of Catholic teachings themselves comes from the Gospel of life, which has been revealed to us by the one true God.

Until recently, such exhortations, given again and again by Pope Francis and his predecessors, have struggled to gain traction. Irrespective of the hard work of so many Catholics, especially the Church’s often-heroic global eco-advocates, the concept of “new lifestyles” has remained largely untried—as if it were some intellectual nicety that we could urge but never achieve.

Well, all that’s changed.

In a matter of months, weeks, and even days, the spread of the coronavirus has changed lifestyles across the world. The disease has infiltrated the poor and the wealthy, young and old, believers and unbelievers. And if the projections are even close, we’ll see for some time a need to eliminate crowds; to shelter in place; to distance ourselves from others to protect strangers—to protect the most vulnerable.

All this has already begun changing how we look at things. While we’ve seen a fair amount of fear and self-centeredness in the wake of COVID-19, we’ve also witnessed remarkable sacrifice and dedication—by health care workers, first responders, utility workers, supermarket staff, truck drivers, reporters, families, friends, and strangers. Many of us have become aware, maybe for the first time, of the concept of a supply chain—of people elsewhere growing or making the stuff that we need to survive.

In our homes, people are baking bread. And they’re making phone calls, not simply texting. They’re learning the value of frugality and sewing and taking walks as families.

As Pope Francis put it yesterday, “In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.”

The forced disconnection with our former ways of life is teaching us the basics of lifestyles known and appreciated by my parents’ generation and every generation that preceded theirs. In the end, much of this relearning of the basics—of simplicity and relationships—will be good for the world and its ecosystems.

Some are even calling this a silver lining.

But now is not the time to say such things. While so many are suffering tremendously as I type these words or dying alone, it is wrong to cheer perceived eco-victories, as seen in this cartoon (right) that has made the rounds of social media.

Frankly, this sort of thing is heartless. Indeed, it is Godless.

Pope Francis, of course, set all this right.

Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”

What we are all experiencing—and will experience—in this stormy sea will teach us three lessons, the kind that catastrophes oft remind the human race.

The first is humility. The second is the value of life and relationships. And the third, which is related to the first two, is the utter vanity of lifestyles of consumption and disposal.

There will be a time to speak more precisely of ecology—to reflect on new lifestyles and possibly rejoice in newfound ways of seeking peace, ways that will benefit our local and global common home.

But now is not that time.

As Pope Francis reminds us, now is the time to pray and fast and to turn to the Lord and say, “Here I am, Lord. Let me help.”

But what does that mean? Truly? What does proper help look like in this dark age?

Beyond the physical help we can all bring—the sharing of food, running errands, and the like—and beyond the specific help of particular vocations, let’s ponder the words of another encyclical by Benedict XVI—words that seem to have prophesied the very pontificate of Pope Francis.

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. (Deus Caritas Est, 18)

(Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Catholic Ecology site in a slightly different form.)

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About William L. Patenaude 36 Articles
William L. Patenaude MA, KHS has a master's degree in theology, is a mechanical engineer, and has recently retired from a 34-year career at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. He has been writing and speaking on the Catholic perspective of ecology since 2004. His debut novel A Printer’s Choice (2018), has been described as "a smart, suspenseful Catholic sci-fi novel, with a richly imagined fictional world."


  1. We read: “There will be a time to speak more precisely of ecology—-to reflect on new lifestyles and possibly rejoice in newfound ways of seeking peace, ways that will benefit our local and global common home.”

    A subtle set of distinctions possibly unfolds. The thing about the Natural Ecology (which is related to, but not to be confused with the Human Ecology) is not only the “common home” but also the sorting out into genuinely “local” niches. Natural ecosystems are differentiated and resilient, but only within boundaries (tipping points) which must be acknowledged early and not unraveled.

    Natural Ecology: the “common home” of many niches–local rooms. (South American parrots do not interact or compete with North American vultures.) Of the related and yet distinct Human Ecology, yes, we are all neighbors, but sometimes with Robert Frost: “good fences make good neighbors.” And, sometimes a fence might even look a lot like a boundary or even a quarantine (or at least some version of a national border?).

    So, of these ecologies, yes to humility and yes to relationships (respecting distinctions?), and yes to rethinking Technocracy/Consumerism as not a limitless cornucopia.

  2. 1) Help your neighbor – if you need something the two of you take turns going out for stuff – every other day.
    2) Wash frequently.
    3) Pray MORE frequently.
    4) Read sacred writings.
    5) Silence

    We’ll get through this.

  3. For many years my wife and I have been teaching Ecological Breastfeeding which has a tremendously good effect on the baby-mother micro-environment. We were pleasantly surprised to read in the British Medical Journal, Oct 2, 2019, that it has a beneficial effect on the macro-environment. The BMJ reported that if the new mothers in the UK did “exclusive breastfeeding” (mother-only) for six months, it would have the same eco-effect regarding CO2 as removing 50,000 to 75,000 cars from the road each year. We hope that in the very near future this reality will be recognized and incorporated into Catholic efforts to help babies, mothers, and the macro-environment.

    • In, there’s other benefits to Natural Breastfeeding for the first 6 months, like spacing childbirth through the amenorrhea (lack of menstruation and fertility for 14-15 months). This gives some women a relief from the still toxic effects of the birth control pill, among many other benefits. Natural Breastfeeding is part of God’s Plan but not the serious threats of the green monster of extreme environmentalism.

      “Eco” Breastfeeding is an appealing bait for the Church and just another way to refocus, distract and hide Marxist Extreme Environmentalism’s endless appetite for abortion, euthanasia and total population control. Catholics beware. Natural Breastfeeding, yes, radical environmentalism, no.

      Saint Francis super strong connection with Nature did not come from a socialist/communist/activist lifestyle but from his total surrender to Christ in the Catholic Faith which even led him to receive Jesus Sacred Wounds, the Stigmata. It was Christ in him that gave him the greatest connection with all of Nature EVER and all of Nature worshipped Jesus (not Marx) through him. I dearly love Nature and aspire to the same. (Romans 8:22-24).

  4. It’s a heroic response from health care workers, first responders, utility workers, supermarket staff, truck drivers, reporters, families, friends, and strangers. May they be blessed with good health.

  5. Heard an interesting sermon , about a man who was infected with the Hep B virus (chronic carrier ) and how the wife one day was motivated to pray , after Communion , acknowledging the union with the Mystical Risen Body of The Lord – ‘Lord, these are Your viruses ‘, with the humble trust that such agents have no room there..and his healing ..

    Exodus has that unforgettable scene of a similar exchange between The Lord and Moses ( Lord ,of course having foreseen it ) right there after the people fall into idolatry and its evil relationship , how they become ‘your people ‘ and Moses , rises up to the need for trust in the never ending love of The Father, hands them right back to The Lord – as ‘ Your People ..’ thus , a call for help to deal with the rebellious entities that have been invited in , that The Lord deal with them as well as the people , as His own …
    Adam the High Priest of creation was destined to have done same , in The Garden , by ’tilling and guarding ‘.
    Baptism too giving us all a share in that same loving responsibility , to bring to The Lord , as His , all areas of our lives – including the spirits that afflict as carnal lusts and related evils be thus set free , to help free creation itself , to be handed over to The Father ..
    The more those who worry about overpopulation and such would engage in calling forth the death spirits to hand over dominion over to them , the more we need to heed the words of The Lord , as in the Divine Mercy Novena – ‘ bring to Me all mankind , esp.all sinners ‘..

    May there be many of His children all over the world who would do so , with trust that The Lord and His Spirit as The Precious Blood and Water take dominion , making us all, creation itself .. as His own, for ever …

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