Sunday, March 24, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: Indifference or making a difference?

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Luke 13: 1-9.

We know,
O Lord,
that the people killed by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique,
are not worse sinners
than we are.

We know that those who died
in the floods of Malawi and Zimbabwe
are not worse offenders
than anyone else on our planet.

We shouldn't be indifferent to these events.

We are all your children,
just as they are.

None of us are perfect.

But all of us
are called
to change
our lives,
from excess
to simplicity,
to reduce our impact on our earth
so that our sisters and brothers
who live
where the effects of climate change are strongest
have half a chance.

So that we all have half a chance.

And all of us
are called
to change
our hearts,
to turn from fear and indifference
to loving action
so that our sisters and brothers
all over the globe
can live
in peace and sufficiency.

You are the Master Gardener.

You see our barren branches,
our sins and shortcomings,
and still you give us
another chance.

May your tender care
help us
to change our lives and hearts
so that we may also offer
your tender care
to those who need it most.


* * * * * * *

Cyclone Idai has been very much on my mind as I reread the sections on Global Inequality (paragraphs 48-52) for this week's reflection on Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (they can be accessed by clicking here.) As usual, they are packed with ideas worth noting and discussing.

When I began studying (and practicing) voluntary simplicity, the fact that a lifestyle like mine is lived by only the top 8-12% of the world's population hit me like a ton of bricks. You could say that I finally began to wake up to the way that my life was depleting the lives of those in the developing world. "Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest," as the pastoral letter of the Bolivian Bishops quoted in paragraph 48 notes -- and the worst damage to the environment arises out of our throwaway consumerism which depletes and pollutes places far from our sight, often in the Global South.

What's even worse is that these effects "are insufficiently represented on global agendas" to the point that most of us go through our days without giving much thought to our brothers and sisters in developing countries (the other 88-92% of  world population) whose lives are negatively impacted by our consumer demands. Except maybe when we see news reports like the ones from Mozambique this week.

Paragraph 49 begins by stating that "there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded... one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought... or... treated merely as collateral damage." Our brothers and sisters in the developing world are paying for the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" -- and those like me -- with the resources of their already impoverished countries. In the meantime, climate change is causing cyclones like Idai, flooding here, droughts and fires there.

Pope Francis nails it when he says: "...we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" (paragraph 49). Have you heard the cries of the poor this week on the news? I am happy to see that Caritas Internationalis has a page for donations to help those in Mozambique, and I suspect Development and Peace is working on something similar.

The Holy Father and his writing team also note that "attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life" (paragraph 50).

Paragraph 51 clearly lays out the biggest problem -- the fact that the Global North's appetite for the planet's resources is huge in comparison to the Global South's, but it's the South that is feeling the worst effects -- environmental devastation through pollution, climate change, and the North's habit of exporting waste to the South (I read several reports this week on North American plastic waste being dumped in Malaysia because there's just too much to recycle).

Paragraph 52 points out that "The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to the ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relationships and ownership which is structurally perverse." The rules are stacked against them. But Pope Francis wants us to change the rules, calling the northern rich to help pay ecological and social debt "by significantly limiting [our] consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development."

Probably the most important sentences in this entire section are the last two: "We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference."

Before radio, television and internet, we didn't know as much about our world or people in other countries. Are we now suffering "compassion fatigue," a numbness to the plight of people we should consider to be our brothers and sisters? Or have we simply adopted indifference as our modus operandi so that we don't have to change?

What would Jesus do? In today's Gospel, he reminds us that those who experience disasters are just like us. If he was giving today's homily, I suspect he would urge us to turn back to God, drop our indifference, and start making a difference.

How have you heard the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor this past week? How have you responded to those cries? What is one thing you did? What is one thing you could have done?