Recently, Pope Benedict in his World Day of Peace message stated the following: “Technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency” (emphasis added). Instead of actually contemplating the Pope’s words, many Americans immediately tried to push the Pope into our political categories, with the following results:
- Those who are politically conservative either ignored the Pope’s words completely or wrote it off as an European eccentricity of Pope Benedict, despite the fact that Pope Benedict has clearly shown he is not beholden to any European “conventional wisdom”.
- Those who are politically liberal hailed this prophetic statement of the Pope as a defense of any and every government response intended to protect the environment.
However, both responses are faulty, as it tries to put the Pope into categories which he resolutely refuses to fall into. B16′s advice is not primarily political, but instead spiritual, as he understands that every political problem has underlying spiritual roots. The pope desires true solutions; in other words, he desires to see everyone strive to live as saints. Living a “more sober lifestyle” is another way of saying that our modern consumerist lifestyle, which is lived equally by both conservatives or liberals, is antithetical to Gospel living.
What people often don’t realize is that striving to live as a saint will actually make you more environmentally-friendly as well. Just look at the three traditional practices of piety and their impact on the environment:
Prayer: Do you pray more than you watch TV every day? How about more than you play video games or mindlessly surf the Internet? Those other activities all require electrical power, whereas prayer’s power source is the Holy Spirit, which is an infinite, renewable source of (spiritual) energy. And you don’t even need electrical lights when you pray – candles are much more conducive to a contemplative mood.
Fasting: We Americans are anything but sober when it comes to eating. To put it simply, we are McFlabby. And all that food – most of it processed and shipped in from far-off lands – not only harms our waistline, but its production doesn’t do the planet much good either. Adding regular fasting to our spiritual lives will do wonders for our spiritual life, but it will also help the environment.
Almsgiving: How many of us have perfectly good clothes in our closets and dressers we never wear? Why not give them away to those less fortunate? Or how about not buying any new clothes this year and making do with the ones we have? Either way we reduce consumption. We could also look to cut deeper: by giving away more money to help the poor, we have less to spend (frivolously) on ourselves which will help our souls and our planet.
Our primary concern in life should be to be holy, but it is nice to know that by doing so, we also become better stewards of creation.