Each one of us, from the most powerful to the most destitute, has received many gifts. The most beautiful of all these gifts, of course, is God’s love. Wrapped in creation, God’s love is ours regardless of the crimes we may have committed, our living conditions, our abilities or the opinions of our fellow men and women.
So, what do we give back to our Creator in return for his gifts? While nothing can repay him in full, there are countless things we can do to express our thanks and our faith in him.
Perhaps, for example, we might take better care of his creation. Rather than argue about whether climate is actually changing, let’s ask ourselves what the potential impacts of continuing to mine for finite resources as a source of fuel might have on our future. Thus far, oil and gas have brought us war, pollution, not-so-natural disasters and battles over who should have access to public lands. Perhaps we should start looking for alternatives not only to protect the planet, but also to alleviate some of the clear and longstanding problems associated with our reliance on fossil fuels.
We could consider cutting our own consumption of fossil fuels and the byproducts of oil and gas production that appear in so many consumer goods. Drive less, stop using plastic throwaway packaging, utensils, and other plastic, i.e. oil-based products, ask your favorite restaurant to stop putting your to-go order in Styrofoam and start using plant-based, biodegradable containers – then compost those containers. Limit use of plastic water bottles to those times when there is no other alternative. In short, reduce the demand for oil-based products.
Whatever actions we take to care for the gift of creation, we should do so not out of guilt or in response to pressure from interest groups, but in recognition of our Catholic beliefs. That the United States uses more of the world’s resources than any other nation is not a surprise to anyone, but overconsumption of resources is in direct contradiction to our church’s teachings about the sanctity and dignity of life, preferential option for the poor, solidarity, peacemaking and, of course, care of creation.
Speaking of the poor, we might also offer God the gift of our voice on behalf of our more vulnerable neighbors. The recent news that at least 10 immigrants out of roughly 100 packed into the back of an un-air-conditioned truck died along the journey needs more than a sympathetic reaction. Those of us with no reason to risk our lives in a similar manner should demand better and more effective immigration laws and economic policies that help provide job opportunities within countries rather than enticing immigrants to put their lives on the line to escape poverty.
Individually, we can change our buying habits to support ethical trade – businesses that pay living wages to people in impoverished countries for handcrafted, organically grown products. Ethicaltrade.crs.org highlights several of these businesses. Purchases made through the website also benefit Catholic Relief Services programs that help global communities build economic sustainability so immigration is no longer necessary for survival.
We could similarly speak out on behalf of the tens of thousands of Utahns, millions of Americans, and even more millions of global citizens who may face devastating impacts from proposed U.S. budget cuts. Federal budget discussions seem to center on providing fewer resources for fewer people to access those things necessary to protect the dignity and sanctity of life, such as shelter, food, health care and education. Catholics should be a voice on these issues because, as Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin reminded participants at the recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders, “a budget … is a theological statement.”
The opportunities to share the gift of our voice and to mold our lifestyles to reflect our faith are limitless. In fact, the sheer number of chances in any given day to do so can be overwhelming. But as Pope Francis said, “True faith in the Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from our membership in community, and from reconciliation with others.”
We may not be able to do it all, but our faith should lead us to engage in at least some of the many issues that cry out for attention from people of faith.
Jean Hill is the director of the Peace & Justice Commission for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.