Passage of Green: Now is the time to take better care of the Earth

By Burnie Cook


Welcome to Passage of Green, a quarterly column that will focus on environmental issues and how they relate to our faith. I am Burnie Cook, a Catholic currently living in Austin and an advocate for our environment and the arts. From a young age, I felt that the planet needs our attention. My parents can attest –– I had a special quote by Charles F. Kettering hung in my room: "We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to live the rest of our lives there." My attention turned even more so to environmental concerns as I worked for a commercial and industrial roofing company that had a focus on being "green" and improving energy-efficiency and sustainability.

Our Catholic faith calls us to be good stewards of this beautiful planet that God has blessed us with. In the grand scheme of things, we only call this earth "home" on a temporary basis. Our true home will be in Heaven with Our Lord and Savior. However, while we are here on this earth, we have a certain responsibility to take care of it. Marty Haugen’s song "Eye Has Not Seen" in verse two poetically reminds us: "Our lives are but a single breath, we flower and we fade, yet all our days are in your hands, so we return in love what love has made."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a pastoral statement in 1991 entitled "Renewing the Earth." I encourage everyone to read or reread the statement as it discusses the need for us to take better care of our planet in light of Catholic social teaching.

"A distinctively Catholic contribution to contemporary environmental awareness arises from our understanding of human beings as part of nature, although not limited to it. Catholics look to nature, in natural theology, for indications of God’s existence and purpose. In elaborating a natural moral law, we look to natural processes themselves for norms for human behavior. With such limits in mind, Pope John Paul II in "Centesimus Annus" urged that in addition to protecting natural systems and other species, we "safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic ‘human ecology’" in urban planning, work environments, and family life ("Centesimus Annus," 38). Nature is not, in Catholic teaching, merely a field to exploit at will or a museum piece to be preserved at all costs. We are not gods, but stewards of the earth," the bishops wrote in the statement.

As stewards of the earth and especially in this month of May, I encourage everyone to spend some time in prayer with our Mother Mary. Let us pray for the intercession of our Blessed Mother that she will help us to understand how we can take better care of our other mother, Mother Nature! Let us work on reducing, recycling and reusing things in our daily lives.

For many being "green" is considered a passing fad, but the statistics don’t lie. If we don’t make very specific changes and take better care of the earth, our children and grandchildren will suffer. There are so many small things that can be done to better the environment. Reusable shopping bags help us to reduce the amount of pollution that plastic shopping bags cause. The city of Austin has banned plastic bags, which I applaud. It would be nice to see restaurants follow suit and reduce the use of Styrofoam cups and take-out plates.

As I go forth with this column, I will discuss some of the small steps that we can take and some of the large steps that we can take to be better stewards of the environment. Some of the resources I will be using include "The Environment" by Pope Benedict XVI and "Green Discipleship: Catholic Theological Ethics and the Environment" edited by Tobias Winright. In closing, let us seek the intercession of our Mother Mary and St. Francis of Assisi as we undertake the challenge to take better care of the Earth.

Burnie Cook and his wife Maggie are parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin. He enjoys spending time with family and friends. Aside from the environment, his other passions include marketing communications, film, music and the arts. Look for "Passage of Green" on Facebook and Twitter.

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