Part 5: Christian Discipleship and the Earth Charter

“To move forward
we must recognize that in the midst
of a magnificent diversity of culture and life forms
we are one human family and one Earth Community
with a common destiny.”

(from Preamble to the Earth Charter)

All Christians of the 21st century, indeed all human beings, have a sacred duty to care for the community of life on our earthly home. The Earth Charter, which was created by the United Nations and presented to the earth community in 2000, can inspire in all of us “a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family and the larger living world.”

As Christian disciples guided, first of all, by the words of sacred scripture, we can find the gospel of Matthew echoed in this new charter for the human family. Matthew, in his well-known twenty-fifth chapter about the last judgment, predates the Earth Charter by two millennia.

In his parable we read that at the end all the nations will be assembled before the throne of the Son of Man in his glory. Jesus then divides the human family into the righteous and the wicked, rewarding the good for their mercy and compassion. These good members of the human family, unaware of how much they have done for those in need, ask him, “When did we see you hungry…, thirsty…, a stranger…, naked…, ill…. in prison…? He responds: “Come, you who are blessed… and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…. Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (25:37-40).

For us today the Earth Charter provides a way to continue what Christians have always been challenged to do. For people of God living in the 21st century, the Earth Charter sets forth the ethical vision needed for the present and future world. This challenge to all the peoples of today and tomorrow can awaken “a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and joyful celebration of life” (conclusion of the Charter).

What can Christian disciples, and people of every faith, contribute to the struggle to reverse the damage and neglect to which we have subjected the earth? How can we assure the future well-being of the Earth?

How are you educating yourself (and others) on such problems as global warming, reducing the wasteful use of energy, the loss of species such as birds and fish, loss of water access for many people?

Reflect on this slogan: “Think globally and act locally.” How can you be more aware of what is going on either globally or locally? One way is to look to current media for suggestions. For example, USA Weekend (included in many Sunday newspapers) focused its September 17, 2007 issue on “37 exciting, easy ways to help the Earth.” Each way suggests how the action is good for the environment and why it is good for you.

The Earth Charter outlines for all of us a broad conception of what constitutes a sustainable world community. As Christian disciples let us be challenged by these four overarching principles:

  • Respect and Care for the Community of Life,
  • Ecological Integrity,
  • Social and Economic Justice,
  • Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace.

In calling us to respect and care for the community of life, the Earth Charter asks us to respect Earth (the capital letter is always used) in a number of ways. How can we care for any local situation with understanding, compassion, and love? How can we help the community we live in to be more just and peaceful? What can we do personally to foster Earth’s bounty and beauty around us?

Many people around us today, in the U.S. and the rest of the world, are increasingly conscious of the dire need to protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems. But much more must be done to establish and safeguard nature and preserve our heritage of wild land and marine life. What can each of us contribute personally to managing the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest and marine life?

Sadly enough, 21 centuries after the gospels were written, poverty is still so pervasive and worldwide that the Earth Charter in its third section on social and economic justice must call for the eradication of poverty. It is still “an ethical, social, and environment imperative.” The gospels for two millennia have been calling all Christians, as the Earth Charter puts it, to “uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous people and minorities.” This is what the gospel has always asked of Christian disciples but we need to expand and deepen our commitment to justice for the world.

The gospel has always called Christians to be peacemakers. This is the challenge of the fourth principle of the Earth Charter on democracy, nonviolence, and peace. This final principle challenges all Christian disciples, from Jesus’ day to ours: “recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth and the larger whole of which we all are a part.”

This Fourth Principle asks us for many actions from global to personal. One of them is “to treat all living beings with respect and consideration” (#15). This is something any of us can do in ordinary ways and actions. We can prevent cruelty to animals and protect them from harm.

Certainly we Christian disciples need to make even more efforts toward peace than we may already be doing: “Recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which we are all a part” (#16).

How are we living out this call to be a peacemaker in our own surroundings?

It is quite amazing, and providential, that the Earth Charter challenges all those of us, living 21 centuries after the first promulgation of the Christian gospel of Jesus Christ, to live in peace, justice, and harmony with the whole world. We might look back at the wisdom figures presented in this retreat to see how they resonate with these Earth Charter principles.

John the Beloved Disciple and Paul the Apostle, Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin–these wisdom figures, coming from the first two millennia, are calling us to live the Earth Charter of the 21st century—or earth, as we have known it, will die. This Charter challenges each of us living today: “Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

Bring this retreat to a close with these powerful words of St. Francis. Reflect on each line, applying its truth to your Christian discipleship in the 21st century:

“Lord, make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much-
seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”