By now, almost everyone has at least heard about Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si - On Care for our Common Home," and there have been a great number of articles, analyses, and assessments of what it says and means.
We can be certain of at least two things: that this encyclical will take its place in the body of Catholic social teaching (just as Pope Francis says it should), and that if we take it seriously, it will have an impact on how we live. Pope Francis specifically calls for an "ecological conversion" on our part - a deeper understanding that the earth is, in fact, our common home, and we are obligated to live more harmoniously with all of creation.
But how are we to do that practically? There are certainly some standard things we can all do, like reduce our use of air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter - even by one or two degrees - or recycle as much as we can and reduce use of cars by consolidating errands.
Here are five quotes from the encyclical and some additional suggestions for how we might change our behaviors to be people of ecological justice:
1. "I urgently appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet." When was the last time that you talked about how to conserve, recycle or reuse items with your family, friends or neighbors? There is so much that can happen when we raise our awareness together with those around us. Get talking.
2. "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." Take the opportunity to join with others to clean up your street or your neighborhood, or someone else's. Organize any group you belong to as highway volunteers or a park garbage patrol. Contact your local town or city to find out how.
3. "Change is impossible without maturation and a process of education." Ecological justice has been a topic of Catholic social teaching for some time, and care for creation is one of its principles. Learn more by going to the USCCB website, or receive regular emails from organizations such as the Catholic Climate Covenant or the Franciscan Action Network. You may also take out one of the dozens of books on the topic from the library of Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora.
4. "Access to safe, drinkable water is a basic and universal human right." About one in nine, or 750 million people, lack access to safe water. More than twice that many - 2.5 billion people (about one in three) don't have access to improved sanitation. Find out how you can help by partnering with organizations like Catholic Relief Services or others to provide clean water and better sanitation.
5. "Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, making choices in solidarity based on a 'preferential option for the poorest' of our brothers and sisters." Every day, we make choices that affect others around the world. Do the clothes that you wear come from a sweatshop halfway across the globe? Do you buy products and food that come from sustainable and ecology-conscious producers? Do you buy as many Fair Trade items as you can, especially coffee and chocolate?
Pope Francis has made it clear that we can no longer live with an "excessive self-centeredness that leads to complacency and cheerful recklessness." We must have an "ecological conversion" - and at least take a few first steps.
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services.