By Kimberly Baker
November 20, 2015
In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis continuallyemphasizes 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.