What Catholic social teaching has meant for me

My love of the environment has been tactile from a young age. I loved tagging along with my parents as they picked up compost from the city. I would climb the mountains of dirt like they were sand dunes, digging my hands into the soft, earthy texture. This love of nature continued through the years — from Girl Scout camping and learning to surf, to hiking across mountains in upstate New York or the LA-area. Despite feeling a deep connection to both nature and my faith, they felt like completely separate interests. I never invited my church friends to go hiking with me nor brought my nature-loving friends to Mass. I didn’t truly connect the two until I learned about Catholic social teaching.

Incredibly late to the party, I learned about Catholic social teaching in my early 30s at a young adult speaker series. As the topics of environmentalism, community and dignity of humanity started to sink in, I brought these topics to my spiritual director. These discussions helped me feel less alone in wanting to live a holistic, intersectional faith life, and a lightbulb slowly flickered on. It made so much sense to me that God created this beauty, created his children with nature, and he wanted his children to love and protect it as well.

Like learning a vocabulary word and noticing it everywhere, I saw God and nature’s connections all over the place. At the Sagrada Familia in Spain, Gaudi specifically designed the structure to be a few feet shorter than the nearby mountain (he believed nothing man-made should supersede what God created). Madeleine L’Engle’s book “Walking on Water” spoke about “being time” and connecting to God through time in nature. Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’ (“On Care for our Common Home”) impresses our connection to nature and requirements as Christian stewards of the environment.

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Stewardship of ecosystems and the planet isn’t only nice, it’s a requirement of our faith (cf. Gn 2:15). We are called to think outside ourselves — not only to the physical land, but the biodiversity of animals, those struggling to recover from natural disasters, etc.

Care for creation goes beyond physical land as well. Conscious consumerism and shifting focus from material goods may initially feel limiting, but God has created a “loaves and fishes” effect in my life. As I move away from an extractive, take-make-waste way of living, God’s abundance flows.

Whenever I find myself wanting to spend money, I ask myself why. Did I fall for an ad on social media? Does this support my values? Do I really need another bathing suit if my current one is perfectly fine? This doesn’t mean that I never spend money, but I’m much more intentional with my decisions. Some may see that I “have less” because I choose to invest in better quality goods from companies I trust, but I’ve also gained hobbies of ingenuity and creative thinking while also learning to operate from a place of God’s abundance.

I have the time, space and money to support great causes, and grow closer to God and to my authentic self. In the dichotomy of being, doing and having, our society prioritizes doing and having — what you’ve accomplished in life, what you have in material possessions. As I shed layers of vanity, consumption and performance-based self-esteem, I grow closer to seeing myself as God sees me.

Once we connect nature and our faith, as Pope Francis points out, there is only one next possible step: We must shift our mindset and fiercely protect our common home. For me, that has looked like shifting my entire life — volunteering with climate justice organizations, career shifting to support the environment, and connecting directly to God’s creation as much as possible. It doesn’t need to be that drastic of a change for everyone, though. Meal planning to reduce food waste, connecting with a local composting group, and dropping off products at a nearby Terracycle box are all free and simple introductions toward better caring for creation. Wherever your interests and abilities lie, there are opportunities to live out Christian values of environmentalism.

Viewing myself as a steward of this land has brought me such fulfillment that I plan to continue on this path, hopefully growing closer to God, nature and myself along the way. I prayerfully invite you all to join me in this journey as well, however it may look to you.

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