In the newspaper comic strip “Family Circus,” there is a ghostly character that often appears when one or more of the kids have created a mess or broken a window or provided some other mayhem. Printed on the character’s chest are the words “Not Me!”
Not Me is the perfect scapegoat—the ideal result of blame shifting. “Of course the room is a mess and there is stuff all over the floor, but when you ask who is to blame, I just have to say Not Me!”
This character is particularly evident in the political arena when there are discussions about global warming and climate change. He and his cousin “We’re not to blame!” help to shift the conversation away from the responsibility of human kind for the rapid deterioration of the environment.
They help to bring witnesses out of the woodwork who say that the science is inconclusive in an attempt to deny that there is anything wrong.
From now until December 11, world leaders are gathered in Paris to finally put that nonsense to rest and to come up with a strategy and a plan to stem the tide and to address the reality of the damage to the climate and the environment that is caused by human activity. Hovering over the assembly of leaders are the blunt words of Pope Francis from his encyclical letter Laudato Si,
The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.
Laudato Si, #21-22
Right in the middle of this most important conference, we celebrate the Second Sunday in Advent–another step toward our celebration of Christmas. When the Book of the Gospels is opened and the deacon begins to read, all of us will hear the words of Isaiah the Prophet as echoed through the preaching of John the Baptist:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Preparing the way of the Lord in today’s context might well mean clearing and cleaning a path in this earthly home of ours. It may well mean being better stewards of the great gift of creation. It certainly means that I need to see the poverty, sickness, isolation, and loneliness that is caused when I am not a good steward.
The Holy Father’s powerful call to all people of good will to take action now is as prophetic as the words of John in the wilderness. The crooked paths of destruction need to be straightened out.
The valleys of poverty and inequality need to be filled. The mountains of greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions need to be made low. The winding roads of greed and injustice just have to be straightened out. And the rough ways of denial and indifference need to be made smooth by action, collaboration, and a passion to protect the world and its creatures.
At the same time, I have to realize that working to reverse the damage we have done over the centuries is not a spectator sport. I need to be involved. When the question is asked, “Who made this mess?” I need to have the courage to raise my hand and say, “Me!”
I have discovered a resource that helps to keep me involved and in contact with others who are involved in caring for the environment. That resource is the Catholic Climate Covenant. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, dioceses and archdioceses, religious communities, and concerned individuals are supporting one another in efforts to care for creation and to care for the poor who are most affected by the deterioration of the planet.
I invite you to visit their web site and discover the St. Francis Pledge: Catholic Climate Covenant. Over 10,000 individuals and families and seventy-five institutions have taken the St. Francis Pledge. They commit to living out their Catholic values through deep reflection, concrete action, and advocacy. Those who take the pledge show resolve and constancy in living the way of St. Francis and seeking a right place in creation, day after day.
The responsorial psalm for this Second Sunday in Advent, expresses the great joy that can come when the seeds of change are planted and the poor reap an abundant harvest.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
No matter what happens in Paris over the next few days, I know that an essential element of my Advent journey entails working to prepare the way for a better world–a world in which “all flesh will see the salvation of God?”