MCC document: For Catholics, there’s no divide between human, environment issues

| April 16, 2019 | 0 Comments

Gender identity and clean water. Pornography and agriculture. Low-income housing and greenhouse gases.

“Everything is connected,” Pope Francis wrote in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, Care for Our Common Home.”

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is underscoring that statement with a new document synthesizing “Laudato Si’” and applying its teaching to issues that especially concern Minnesotans.

Jason Adkins, MCC executive director, said the document, “Minnesota, Our Common Home,” challenges the false dichotomy between “life issues” and “social justice issues” when it comes to public policy and personal decision-making, and he expects it to compel every Catholic to reconsider his or her policy stances and lifestyle choices.

At the heart of the 41-page document, published earlier this year, is an explanation of “integral ecology,” which Adkins describes as a recasting of Catholic social teaching. As a central idea in “Laudato Si’,” the concept unites care for “natural ecology” — the natural environment — and “human or moral ecology” — human society.

For Catholics, natural ecology and human ecology cannot be properly understood apart from each other, Adkins said.

It’s about “right relationships,” he said, “and right relationships are rooted properly in a question of understanding who we are in our identity, and our own created nature is made for life and made for each other. We are made for relationships, and we are incomplete without relationships. … It starts with our relationship to God, ourselves, each other, our families, our communities but also the environment.”

The document is primarily for Catholics, but like “Laudato Si’,” “Minnesota, Our Common Home” is addressed to all people of good will, Adkins said. He noted that the state’s Catholic bishops shared copies with Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan during a recent meeting, in part because it explains why the bishops are involved in so many advocacy areas.

MCC is the public policy voice for the Catholic Church in Minnesota. Its board members are the state’s Catholic bishops.

While other states’ Catholic conferences have published documents exploring the importance of certain aspects of human and natural ecology, this is the first to explain the Catholic worldview through the framework of integral ecology, Adkins said. MCC recognized that the questions raised in “Laudato Si’” and “our environmental moment” was “an opportunity for evangelization,” he said.

The document also aims to show that the Church’s holistic vision can bridge the void otherwise filled by ideologies that range from the “Leave No Trace crowd,” Adkins said, to the transhumanism movement, which aims to use science and technology to transcend humans’ natural mental and physical limitations.

“There’s a lack of awareness of our true nature, and what it means to live in a world of created natures, and respecting the ends and purposes of each created nature, whether it’s the natural environment or our bodies,” he said. “It’s not ‘leave no trace,’ but ‘leave the right trace.’”

In Minnesota, that plays out not only in questions surrounding sustainable farming and mining practices, the document states, but also those surrounding human sexuality, including artificial birth control and the transgender movement.

More than 30 experts contributed to the document, Adkins said. Among them was Anthony Granado, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Domestic Social Development. His office also collaborated with MCC to host a workshop in November for state Catholic conference leaders on integral ecology.

Granado said that “Laudato Si’” and “Minnesota, Our Common Home” articulate a “traditional teaching that we’ve lost over the centuries.”

With modernity, people experience “the loss of a holistic understanding of the human person and the relationship to God and the created order,” he said. “You cannot separate life issues from social justice issues, because life issues are social justice issues. How we interact with the created order through our business practices, through our employment practices are moral questions and are about the life and dignity of persons.”

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said “Minnesota, Our Common Home” challenges every person, no matter his or her political beliefs, and that the document resists ideology, which can lead people away from the Gospel.

“There’s always a distinction between ideology and the Gospel,” he said. “Ideology is people who take an idea, even a good idea, and they follow that idea, but it can cause them to lose the Gospel, which keeps everything connected. And there’s always a danger for Christians to become ideologues, that is, people who are fundamentally defending an idea, not the person of Jesus Christ, in whom everything is perfected.”

He added: “Jesus wants to teach us how to see the world the way he sees.”

However, that everything is connected doesn’t mean that everything has equal moral weight, he said.

“By uniting all these issues in one document, we’re not saying that all issues are equal,” he said. “The destruction of human life is a greater evil than the needless destruction of certain aspects of the environment, because it’s a more immediate danger (and) it affects more directly the human person, which is created in God’s image. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the environment.”

He added: “Part of (what Pope Francis calls) the ‘ecological conversion’ is actually (the recognition that) God’s in control and God’s the author, and we’re stewards of everything, and that’s the environment as well as my body. That puts things in right order and helps me to see everything rightly.”

While the document explores issues deeply shaped by public policy and acknowledges their complicated factors, it also emphasizes that individuals’ daily decisions also make an impact — not only on the environment, but also on the heart.

“Nothing is insignificant when seen with eyes of faith,” it states. “Every sustainable choice at the grocery store, every farm-to-table meal ordered at a restaurant, every scrap of food composted rather than wasted, now speaks the language of love; what once seemed mundane is transformed into an opportunity to express our Catholic faith. … Even the food we eat has implications for our relationship with God, with our neighbor and with the earth.”

Bishop Cozzens said that the document has challenged him “to consider the importance of the little ways that I can make a difference in living out this ecological conversion. … It’s caused me to question how I can be responsible in the way that I use energy or time.”

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