By Dr. Reinhard Huetter
October 22 is the memorial of Pope Saint John Paul II, who can be seen as the spiritus rector of the Institute for Human Ecology, for Saint John Paul has articulated in the broadest and deepest sense a full, comprehensive, and integral ecology of the human person — natural, familial, communal, social, economic, political — and most fundamentally — spiritual and theological.
The human being, created in the image of God, is called to a life of union with God that commences in this life on earth as a life of ever increasing discipleship of and friendship with Jesus Christ and is consummated in the eternal communion with the Triune God. Yet this drama of salvation includes not only human beings but all of creation such that the destiny of the whole created order is included in the mystery of Christ, a mystery that is present from the beginning: “All things have been created through him and for him” (Col 1:16).
If this is true, then quite obviously human ecology — the right ordering of the human being, interiorly and vertically, so to speak, to God in faith, hope, and charity, and exteriorly and horizontally, so to speak, to all other human beings in the orders of justice and charity — is inherently connected to the ecology of the created order. The created order, after all, comes from God and is itself ordered toward God.
If the human ecology is distorted by the eclipse of God, the contempt for the human person, and the ensuing exploitation of human beings, it will not take long for this distortion to affect the natural order. The contempt of the human person and the contempt for God’s creation are two sides of the same coin. Hence, as Pope John Paul II stresses in his message The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility: “We must go to the source of the problem and face in its entirety that profound moral crisis of which the destruction of the environment is only one troubling aspect. . . . Respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress. The complexity of the ecological question is evident to all. There are, however, certain underlying principles, which, while respecting the legitimate autonomy and the specific competence of those involved, can direct research towards adequate and lasting solutions. These principles are essential to the building of a peaceful society; no peaceful society can afford to neglect either respect for life or the fact that there is an integrity to creation. . . . When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can better understand the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”
The end of this calendar year will mark the 30th anniversary of an unjustly forgotten, prescient, and prophetic text of Saint John Paul II, a text promulgated on December 8, 1989 and delivered on January 1, 1990. It behoves us to remember this text and encourage a thoughtful reconsideration of what the saintly Pope urged onto the consciousness and conscience of the faithful and all people of good will on the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990. This was almost 30 years ago — and if these words had been taken to heart and transposed into politics, laws, and personal habits collectively then countless people would be able to continue a tradition initiated a generation earlier.
Tolle lege, take and read.