About two weeks ago, when I was in the check-out line at the supermarket, I noticed that my cashier did not say “plastic or paper.” The baggers just started putting our groceries into paper bags. I first thought, “They must have forgot…” I always said plastic when they asked me, but I let it go. Plastic was easier to carry to the car… we use them around the house… easy to throw away.
It wasn’t until later that I found out why the city of Chicago had banned my plastic bags. The reasoning was that our city was using 2,000 bags per minute, and we needed to put a stop to this waste. Think about all the large stores, all the purchases, all the businesses. Three million of us. Bags that are made with petroleum. Not easily biodegradable. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad.
So I thought, OK, I’ll just use paper from now on. And then I found out it take more energy to make a paper bag than it does a plastic bag. Millions of paper bags, and we’ll just throw them away, too. Unless I bring my own bags.
I know I should have been more aware of these things before August 1st, but I was just too busy. Like going to the dentist, or eating your vegetables, we all know the right thing to do, but sometimes, we just don’t do it. We’re lazy. We’re stressed. Maybe you can relate.
Well, Pope Francis has a message for people like us in his first encyclical, Laudato Si. On Care of Our Common Home. Promulgated in May of this year, on the feast of Pentecost, the Pope doesn’t pull punches when it comes to our responsibility and the environment.
“The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”
Wow. In other words, caring for the environment is no longer optional. What we do today affects all generations, the rich and the poor, Christian and non-Christians, everybody. The faucet we leave running, that plastic bottle we throw out, that iced coffee cup I buy every morning, the light I leave on – that’s taking energy and resources from our grandchildren.
I have to change how I live. Today. We all do.
See, everything is connected. Like a spider’s web, our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. How we treat the earth is a good indicator of how we treat other people.
In other words, we are responsible for the earth, not in control of it. The idea of a “throw-away” culture is not acceptable for plants, animals, rivers, air… or other people. We are not objects that can be discarded… it’s why those Planned Parenthood videos are so disturbing.
Think of it this way: it’s not about saving the environment — it’s about saving God’s environment. We are caring for our common home, and everyone who lives here. This is ecological conversion. Imagine if we all pause for a moment and thought about this each time we shop, reusing our bags as way to care for others, being aware of our carbon footprint?
Why not say a prayer every time you pull the bags out of the backseat? A prayer of gratitude for all that you have been given, a chance to reflect for just a minute on why you are using the bags. Imagine if we all take this seriously? What could we do?
What would you do?
Both Pope Francis and Bishop Cupich, who has been tweeting about this encyclical all summer long, feel this is one of the most important issues of our time.
But you could say these bags… are the reason I became a more responsible Catholic, a better Christian, this summer.