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Pope Francis’ call to be eco-revolutionaries

31 January 2014

Al Fritsch, SJ

A Christian who is not a revolutionary today is not a Christian. Pope Francis

Being a Christian involves obedience. It’s easier to obey a superior we like unless he makes the likeable somewhat difficult. Jesuits, with our special vow, think this affable Pope is easy to follow when he asks us to be revolutionaries; but, when we put “eco-” in front, is it easy? Personally, I share with Francis being a Jesuit, chemist, activist, and Facebook friend; however, he encourages me to do more: extraordinary dedication, intensive focus, and community/team cooperation. We are called to heal our wounded Earth at this time of anthropogenic climate change. This is a monumental task and we wonder if it is possible to make a mark, to be a good example, to confront culprits, and to change a culture bent on self-destruction. Tall order.

In the heart of the matter, we are activists with the name “Jesus” in our Society’s title because the one who confronted Pharisees IS (not was) an activist. Jesus continues to be within his Mystical Body extending his presence through and in us as ministers of the Gospel. If Jesus identifies with those who suffer today, he also identifies with those who must seek to do what he did 2000 years ago when he cleansed his Father’s house, a house of prayer (Luke 19:46) for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7).

Francis’ discourse to the annual Roman Diocesan Convention last 17 June goes beyond that city and has global application, for HERE is well beyond Rome, NOW is a stricken world in urgent need, and WE are the entire Christian family who desperately need God’s grace in our actions. Let’s listen to his words:

  1. HERE – Bring the promise of salvation to the poor, the sad, and the suffering.
  2. NOW – The poor are the first to need and deserve the good news.
  3. WE – Our revolution focuses on changing hearts.
  4. Empowerment by GOD – Leave the comfort of the parishes and go to the streets and share the Good News with others. He ends by quoting from Matthew 25, “For I was hungry and you gave me food.”

We extend this message to be eco-revolutionaries to the place where we are specifically placed; we are sensitive to our shortness of time (Psalm 90:12) and the enormity of the tasks before us. The charges the Pope gives to us are more than an academic or nebulous exercise; it flings us to the feet of Jesus and his Mother, the first truly Christian revolutionaries, and allows us to attempt to follow in their footsteps to Calvary, now extended in space and time. Through modern communication and Internet, the farthest reaches of Earth are at our doorstep beckoning our growing solidarity. Let’s apply our instrument The Spiritual Exercises:

Week One: Our beautiful and fragile Earth is wounded HERE before our eyes. Splendid Earth, product of billions of years of evolution, is endangered in this ultimate moment of geological time by actions of the greedy and privileged few, who are permitted to indulge their extravagances by the reckless silent and complacent. Resource depletion, waste, and pollution cries to heaven to be exposed and halted by all legitimate means, even to the point of civil disobedience. Through a down-to-Earth approach, we stewards of all creation must see clearly and do more than observe. At this most basic level, we accept our own faults of commission and omission, and we resolve to change our practices, while not denying being misled by merchants of doubt bent on material profits.

Week Two: Change is urgently necessary NOW. Time is of the essence, for the window of opportunity for meaningful actions to save our wounded Earth shortens by the day. Looming catastrophic events caused by continued increased greenhouse gas emission are just beyond the horizon. Individuals and small groups face the reality that small efforts are limited in this global crisis. Appropriate technologies are good, but need further refinement and that takes precious time. An unchallenged consumer economy is a root cause of the crisis and must be confronted forthrightly, even at the risk of our being designated unpatriotic; a worldly culture entices the affluent to spend and not to share with those of essential needs. We reflect on Jesus’ words and actions; his earthly ministry teaches us to share, to touch hearts with love, and to feed the hungry.

Week Three: WE are called to act in solidarity. In this level of eco-awareness, we cannot waste time expecting the affluent to surrender privileges. The good news is the poor can act through pooling resources, for we have God’s option before us. As true revolutionaries, we listen to Mary and join in raising the lowly and bringing down those in high places (Luke 1:52). The good news is that the poor hold the key to change; the harsh news is that we suffer from social addiction to consumer products and so we all are the poor. In a moment of grace, we see that we suffer with Jesus on Calvary. Our physically poor brothers and sisters keep all focused and reminded of the temptation to escape to side issues. In a moment of grace, we acknowledge our condition and turn to God.

Week Four: ANOTHER is at the heart of eco-empowerment. A change directed for and by the poor minimizes elitism and material profit motivation of individuals and finds success in the rise of us all together as one Body. We are not privileged to be above others in intellect, wealth, or fame, but moved to be one as poor folks who work together to fill what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ for his body the Church (Colossians 1:24). Realizing our impoverishment opens us to God’s power to help us to renewal and resurrection in power (Romans 1:4). Our deeds are directed to both saving a damaged environment and to furnish essentials of life to the poor. The ultimate end of our collective salvation is for all to be all in Christ (Ephesians 1:12).

Let’s conclude with a Contemplation of God’s Love extended to our suffering neighbor, not only those living today but tomorrow’s potentially impoverished generations. Current predictions startle us, and prudence draws us to take deeper notice. Among the bearers of such sober news, the US Energy Information Administration recent report, International Energy Outlook 2013, predicts a 56% global increase in energy use in 2040, with 80% of that use still being greenhouse-emitting fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise to 45 billion metric tons in 2040, a 46% increase from 2010. The curbing of consumption in North America and Europe will do little more than slow this increase, since most of the growth is to be in non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. Dire global-warming forecasts loom just beyond our lifetime.

We affirm with confidence that we can still save our wounded Earth, but it will take a massive effort on the part of all people, a change of heart, a revolution. We Jesuits can have an active role to play if we stop pretending and take this matter seriously, along with 97% of the scientists of our planet. We need support from each other, for nothing we do is perfect, and this is a work in progress.

To join Francis is a truly Ignatian mission. Answering the call may be comforting, but the work contains discomfort. Yes, as a community we are called to be eco-revolutionaries, not perhaps the most excellent (for others have great gifts) but that is okay. Nevertheless, let’s be among the first to respond in time for that is the Society’s vocation.

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One Response to Pope Francis’ call to be eco-revolutionaries

  1. james strzok, sj on 26 April 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Dear Al,

    Thanks for your article and for your suggested Spiritual Exercises based on today’s ecological challenges. I live in Dodoma, deep in the interior of Tanzania, especially doing development of two young schools of ours — St. Peter Claver High School here in Dodoma and Ocer Campion Jeusit College in Gulu, Uganda. By training I am a chemist, physicist and environmental scientist. I am challenged to bring sound environmental practices into our construction. Some years ago I reported on our eco-ponds at Ocer which digest the sewerage and, by passing it through three holding ponds, produce stream water quality effluents.

    This year we have opened our first bio-latrine, which digests the urine and feces of 24 students, creating methane gas for our campus kitchen and eventually our own Jesuit and staff residences. It is now coming on line.

    What caught my eye, in addition to your article, was the EIA graph giving the projected international energy forecast. Thanks. Jim Strzok, SJ

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