Before spending three years as an undergrad in West Virginia, I gave no thought to the origins of the energy I consumed. I was taught to turn off the lights or TV when they weren’t in use, but I assumed this was to save money on our electric bill. Because of that small action, I thought I had “green living” figured out. What I had never put together before my work with the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University was the fact that the energy I consumed came from somewhere, with individuals, societies, and Earth paying a toll higher than the electric bill I had saved on.
Today’s Gospel seems to echo this movement from ignorance to awareness to compassion. Just not killing each other is apparently not enough; Jesus challenges us all to go beyond, to break forth. We’ve heard it said that we should recycle, but we must go further, reducing our consumption and plastic use. If we continue to over-consume but justify it because we recycle, we are no better than when we justify our anger because we aren’t murderers.
Reduce consumption and waste, especially single-use items (coffee cups, take-out containers). Beyond that, reduce your use of the term “natural resources” as if the worth of creation depends on its human-assigned value. Reduce energy consumption (energy fasts each week, charge your phone every other day and not overnight). And beyond that, learn about the environmental, health, and economic tolls fossil fuel extraction industries have on entire communities in order to provide you the energy you use.
To be in right relationship we need to change external behaviors and internal attitudes. The Gospel challenge is to see how our individual, seemingly insignificant actions contribute to the structures and systems of injustice. We may not be removing mountaintops to get to the coal seams ourselves, but our demand and constant energy use plays no insignificant role.
Remedying the injustice is essential to our participation in the body of Christ. We need to stop, turn around, and fix those relationships that are broken before we bring our gifts to the altar.
Elizabeth Nawrocki is in her first year of the Master of Theological Studies program at Loyola University Maryland. She graduated from Wheeling Jesuit University in 2016 with a BA in Religious Studies and Theology and spent a year with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest serving with L’Arche Tahoma Hope Farm and Gardens.