New Lenten Observations: Pray, Fast, Create A Sustainable World

Before jumping into the topic, I want to say “thank you” to Tito and the entire staff for the invitation to contribute to TAC.  I’m humbled and honored – and I hope to meet the fine standards already established here.  It’s gonna mean more reliance on a dictionary and thesaurus, and the use of something I’ve seen referred to as “rational thinking”, but that’s a challenge I’m willing to undertake.  Readers of my blog Acts of the Apostasy are familiar with my style; as my masthead says, “Orthodox commentary on heterodox hooligans – serious; satirical; humorous; faithful.”  I can’t guarantee the most erudite (I had to look that up) commentary, but hopefully it will spark some worthwhile thoughts and conversations.   So let’s begin…

Lent starts tomorrow.  Ash Wednesday.  A time to tighten our belts, wash our faces, deep-fry some haddock…

…and exorcise our homes of those eeeeevvilllll incandescent light bulbs.

That’s right – according to the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, your Lent will be meaningless if you don’t focus on creating a more sustainable and just world.  It’s all about forgoing plastic shopping bags and installing CFL’s.  Forget about growing in holiness.  It’s all about glowing in fluorescence-ness.

From The Catholic News Service:

As Lent begins with Ash Wednesday March 9, Dan Misleh wants to remind Catholics that it is not just about giving up chocolate or ice cream for 40 days.

Instead, the executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change would like to see Catholic families and individuals make some permanent sacrificial changes that will also contribute to a more sustainable and more just world.

“The whole issue of climate change is about consumption and lifestyle,” said Misleh of the changes the Washington-based coalition would like to see implemented far beyond the Lenten period.

“Lent is the perfect time to examine our lifestyles,” he added. Even giving up a food item like chocolate or ice cream “reminds us that we do need to live more within our means, more in touch with people who don’t have any of these things,” Misleh said.

The coalition — which includes Catholic organizations representing the U.S. bishops, health care providers, teachers, men and women religious and a wide range of others — is promoting the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor, through which individuals, families and institutions promise to pray and learn about environmental issues, assess their own contributions to climate change, act to change their choices and advocate Catholic principles and priorities on climate change.

If it were me, I’d pledge to take care of the poor first.  I notice things like word order.  But that’s me.  And I’m not sold on the notion that any reduction in my lifestyle will ultimately improve the lives of those who have less than me.  Sure, I’ll have some solidarity in spirit with those who have less, but at the end of the day, those who have less…still have less.  From their perspective, nothing will have changed for the better.  Is Christianity all about everyone being equally miserable, or is it about spreading the joy of the Gospel?

Let’s read on:

Pope Benedict XVI — dubbed the “green pope” for his support of environmental initiatives at the Vatican — has been critical of what he sees as a lack of worldwide commitment to mitigating climate change.

In a January 2010 address, he told diplomats accredited to the Vatican that he shared “the growing concern caused by economic and political resistance to combating the degradation of the environment.”

But he also said that the devastation of the world’s forests, the spread of its deserts and the pollution of its water cannot be reversed without moral education and changed lifestyles.

Arguments pro or against man-made climate change aside, reducing the Holy Father’s 2010 World Day of Peace Message to two sentences provides a great disservice, and is a tad disingenuous, considering the deep beauty, theology and nuance of the entire message.  This post is not intended to discuss that message, but it behooves us to read the whole thing, paying particular attention to paragraph 13, in which Pope Benedict said: “On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. If the Church’s magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things. In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the “dignity” of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings.”

Bear in mind that not all the Sustainability Oracles hold that point of view – I suspect that even some of the “Catholic” ones don’t.  Back to the article:

As a next step in that educational process, 24 newly trained “Catholic climate ambassadors” will begin making presentations to parishes or schools this spring, especially about “the need for solidarity with the poor, who are the ones most impacted by climate change,” Misleh said.

What will the environmental footprint be for those 24 “ambassadors” as they travel from parish to parish, I wonder…

Among the other resources available to raise awareness about the need for global solidarity are the Lent 4.5 faith-formation program developed by the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center in Louisville, Ky., and Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl.

“Passionist Earth and Spirit Center” – now there’s an interesting bunch.  Cosmology, eco-spirituality, enneagrams…I’ll leave it at that.

Lent 4.5, a seven-week program, gets its name from the fact that if the world were divided equally among all its residents, each would receive 4.5 acres of land from which to derive all of his or her food, energy, clothing, housing and “gadgets.”

Remember – that number will decrease every year, too, as the population increases…

“But it takes 22.3 acres to maintain the average American lifestyle,” the program’s website notes. “There is a new way of observing Lent that helps us care for God’s creation by taking steps toward using only our fair share of its resources. Moving in the direction of 4.5 is essential for anyone walking in the footsteps of Jesus today.”


And there it is.  Americans are unfairly stealing resources from the unfortunate.  We’re not limiting ourselves to our fair share.  Thus, unless you’re reaching for that magic number of 4.5, you’re falling short of the glory of God.  Or something.  Whatever that something is, it’s now quantifiable.  Since I have a nice house, two vehicles, a gas-powered mower and I barbecue copious amounts of meat during the summer, my family of 4 greedily consumes nearly 90 acres worth of stuff.  Naturally, that means several dozen Ethiopians are suffering.  If only I were to reduce my footprint, some of those Ethiopians’ lives would miraculously improve.

Alas, it doesn’t work that way.  It’s not even true.  An eco-conversion – whether it be expressed by driving more fuel-efficient cars, or installing CFL’s, or buying more local produce – would benefit no one…but me and my family!  Our bills would be lower, our health would improve, we’d feel better about ourselves.  Granted, doing such things can be steps towards being better stewards of creation, (not entirely, though – the production of batteries for electric cars, for instance, wreaks havoc on the environment), or better stewards of our gifts, and is part of the response to living God’s will.  It’d be a response to resisting the sins of avarice, envy and gluttony – all very good things – provided the motivation is properly ordered.

But I don’t think I’d be fully responding to the call of loving our neighbor.  Christ commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned.  Such things require intimate interactions with the individual – the “human ecology”, as Pope Benedict calls it – and face-to-face involvement, not merely making lifestyle changes in order to put notches on our tightened eco-friendly imitation leather belts.

Otherwise, you end up with the following:

13 Responses to New Lenten Observations: Pray, Fast, Create A Sustainable World

  • Encouraging donations of non perishable foods might help the poor in our local communities but I still don’t see that helping the poor in Africa. How about calling for a closer relationship with God during Lent? Even sacrificing money you would normally use for yourself, saving that money during Lent, and sending the money to an organization which helps those suffering from poverty might help more so than stopping using plastic bags or stopping using incandescent light bulbs.

  • “Forget about growing in holiness. It’s all about glowing in fluorescence-ness.”

    Love it!!! Thank you.

  • “Catholic Coalition on Climate Change”

    Hmmm. Imagine what Chesterton could have done with that! Actually we don’t have to wonder:

    “The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”

  • I thought all the excessive consumption of my American lifestyle helped other people.

    I employed Guatemalan carpenters to build my house.

    Chinese factory workers make most of my clothes and shoes, well except that pair of $29 Jeans I bought made in Texas – that employed Mexicans.

    I get my food from all over the world.

    I pay taxes to liberate ungrateful Iraqis and Afghans and I am about to contribute to grounding a North African madman’s air force to allow Libyans to kill each other better.

    You’d think all these people would be happy that I consume so much. What would happen if I stopped? They’d be unemployed, broke and hungry – oh, wait, they already are. It seems my consumption doesn’t do anything for them one way or the other.

    Did it occur to anyone at the CCoCC that most people in this world wouldn’t know what to do with 4.5 acres. In Africa they have more than 4.5 acres and they still starve. There was a country once, more of a union of councils, or soviets, that made private property ownership nonexistent, so everyone had hundreds of thousands of acres they all shared, I think the Chinese tried that too. It worked so well, they starved, until Reagan was willing to give them some of our extra wheat (I am not sure how he did that because we greedy Americans consume so much). Of course, the USSR and China are great for mother, er, ah sister Earth. What with Chernobyl and killing little girls because of the one child policy. We should be more like that under the bug-zapper lights that are full of mercury.

    Not to mention all the Americans fleeing across the borders of other countries to escape our ecological nightmare.

  • To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned all requires me to increase my carbon footprint. So, are you sure that is what God wants me to do?

  • I think I’m going to have to give up working for Lent so that I can decrease my carbon footprint. There’s one problem with that – then I would be poor. Gee, ain’t that ironic.

  • American Knight,

    amen brother.

  • “Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother.”

    Actually, I think of her as a different kind of mother. But this is a family site. :)

  • I am reminded of a priest who would say that God forgives everything and men forgive some things but nature forgives nothing.

  • If one considers the total ecological impact of manufacturing compact fluorescent bulbs versus conventional bulbs, instead of just the energy it takes to power them after they are made, I should think that the old fashioned light bulb would be the hands down winner. Some glass, a short piece of wire, two pieces of sheet metal and spot of plastic resin goes into the one, the other takes mercury, a lot of copper wire, more plastic, phosphorus, etc. Being made in China now, the quality is crap and they don’t tend to last more than a couple of years with much use. With luck they may not blow up and leak mercury. Being made in China the factories have no real environmental regulations to follow before they are shipped via diesel powered ships across the pacific. I’ll take the Sylvania bulbs made in Pennsylvania.

    Just another feel good that does more real harm than good.

  • Hmmm…the whole fluorescent bulbs thing…does this Catholic Coalition want us to think that somehow falls under the “Luminous” Mysteries of the Rosary?

    God save us from the Left.

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