As crowds gathered in Huntington Beach recently for the Blessing of the Waves, I was struck by the majesty, might and beauty of the Pacific—particularly “mighty” that day with 6-foot swells and a powerful rip current. Big waves and their beauty can also mean, on the reverse side, evacuations and damaged homes in Mexico and record rainfall in Arizona and parts of California. Unfortunately, the rain fell so fast and hard that precious water became runoff rather than soaking into the ground to alleviate our drought.
Our relationship with nature, as part of nature, is full of contradictions. The beauty of nature can draw us to God, helping us to reflect on God’s creation—water is essential to our liturgical and celebrations. However, the consequences of a lack of water, or a deluge, can be catastrophic. We learn to adjust to seasons and changes in creation, from new farming techniques to fuels and construction materials. Listeners to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount knew that building one’s house on sand is foolish.
Nonetheless, technologies and methods have different consequences and sometimes what was once thought to be a rock-solid foundation shows cracks. Ours is a “throwaway culture” and it is not only things that are thrown away, but people as well. We know that adverse climate and environmental degradation always hurt the poor and vulnerable most. Catholic Relief Services witnesses these effects firsthand in countries where they work.
Here in Orange County we can take for granted our beautiful environment, fertile land, and stable weather. But we know that all this can change. Right now California is entering its fourth year of a record-setting drought. As my brother bishops and I wrote recently: The shortage of water illustrates how precious, and sometimes precarious, that connection can be…Californians have responded with support for fire victims, greater water conservation and realistic conversations on future water management. The solidarity and compassion that guide these efforts must become abiding habits of the heart as we discern the best way to ensure a sustainable future for the present and future generations of Californians.
What can we do? Ora et labora. Pray for the good of creation and work to conserve and increase our practices of sustainability. A great place to start is the work of the Catholic Climate Covenant, which has gathered a host of helpful resources (including the St. Francis Pledge) and actions that you can take, locally, nationally and globally, to care for God’s creation.
By the example and intercession of Saint Francis, may we protect creation, safeguarding the dignity of the human person and life itself. In the words of Pope Benedict (who wrote and spoke extensively about care for the environment and which was often overlooked): “My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable.” Let us remember the One who has made each one of us and all the beauty we enjoy and let us worship our Creator with great joy and care.
+ Bishop Kevin Vann