US Catholic Faith in Real Life

When it comes to the environment, the church should seek the wisdom of women religious

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

If anyone is going to lead the North American church to "greener pastures," it's going to be women religious.

Religion News Service covered some Massachusetts Dominicans who, rather than selling off acres to developers, have been making efforts to conserve their land. (The story is part of a fascinating series on the relationship between the earth's elements and the world's religions.) Even more, through a project called Religious Lands Conservancy, they are helping other religious communities to do the same.

Considering numbers in many religious orders are drastically dwindling, and financial resources are drying up accordingly, the sisters' committment to environmental conservation is even more impressive.

According to the article, Sister Chris Loughlin, the launcher of the project, said that "although religious orders are fading, their land could yet be a lasting legacy."

I gasped and drew my hands up to the sides of my face when I read that line.

Recently, I attended a luncheon at Dominican University where theologian Elizabeth Johnson led a roomfull of religious, laity, and even a few clergy in a discussion on the Incarnation within a view of the universe much wider than we are used to imagining. In theology, this is often called the "new cosmology," and while that sounds ultra new-agey and even a little space-y, it's one of the most grounded theological discussions happening today. The conversation most often includes a dimension of environmental justice.

My reservations with the "new cosmology" have been with how it re-imagines humanity's place in the universe in attempts to get us to think about all of creation. While I applaud the valuing of more than just human flourishing, I tend to get wary when educated Westerners who enjoy the privlege of plenty wax poetic on the importance of sparrows and spiders. Would we express such selflessness if the survival of our species were at risk?

I imagine that Loughlin and her sisters would respond, "of course." Because, in a sense, the survival of their species, women religious, is at risk. But rather than accept lucrative offers for their land that would assuredly prolong their survival at least a little while longer, they've chosen the road less traveled: the one where self preservation fades in the rear-view mirror and the compass is hope for the future. In this way, it's also a path not unlike Jesus'.

In taking this path, women religious such as Loughlin are paving the way for the rest of the church. The article goes on to say that, "Catholic sisters across the U.S. and Canada have woven environmental justice and community-supported agriculture into their religious vocation."

Vowed religious aren't the only members of the church with a vocation. There's no reason why this kind of committment to environmental justice can't or shouldn't be incorporated into everyone's lives. In fact, there are only reasons why it must be incorporated into the vocation of every Christian.