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By Kimberly Baker
In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis continually emphasizes the theme of gratitude, reminding us that gratitude is critical to our relationship with the natural world and our fellow human beings. Gratitude enables us to see the interconnectedness of all created things and the sacredness of human life, because all are gifts from God.
Simply put, gratitude is the natural response to a gift. Gratitude arises when we receive something that has been freely given to us, or something positive that has been done for us. When we consider the beauty of the natural world and the preciousness of human life, it's important to recognize them as gifts from God. In this way we cultivate a sense of respect for all created things, beginning with the human beings created in the very image and likeness of God – thereby building up a culture of life at all levels.
The opposite of gratitude is to take everything for granted, to have a sense of entitlement. In a culture of death, where changing values such as health, youth, beauty, and strength are taken as the norm or idolized to the exclusion of deeper values, people assume that the good things of the earth – even other people – can be grasped at and controlled for personal benefit. This mindset advances the false and destructive idea that anyone inconvenient can (and should) be eliminated for a more ideal world.
Pope Francis writes: "Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise" (Laudato Si, no. 12). Instead of viewing – and controlling – the earth only for what resources it can give us, we can marvel at its beauty, take care of, and preserve this great gift of creation. We must be mindful of how we are using our water, electricity, and food. We must also reject the "throwaway" culture that says some people are disposable. Having respect for the earth goes naturally with respect for human life, because our attitude towards one inevitably affects the other. We preserve the earth especially to provide a nurturing "common home" for other human beings now and in the future.
Echoing Pope Francis' thoughts, we can recognize that a human being is not a "problem" to be solved, but a gift and mystery. Instead of viewing other humans as problems – particularly the poor, the elderly, the sick and the unborn – we should view them as persons with dignity who need our help and compassion. The acceptance of the vulnerable makes the world a more human and welcoming place to live in, which is closer to an "ideal world" than any "throwaway" society could be.
Let us have gratitude for God's gift of life and for the beautiful world he has given us. May we always be stewards of the earth, respecting creation by living responsibly and joyfully, never taking the natural world for granted. And may we always cultivate respect for human life by helping others embrace their dignity, never treating them as burdens or taking them for granted. For each of us is a masterpiece of God's creation, and worthy of love.
Kimberly Baker is Programs and Projects Coordinator for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops' pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.
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