Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Religious sisters lead revolt against climate crisis. Wow?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 28, 2023

Today we picked up a story from L’Osservatore Romano which highlights “Sisters leading the climate crisis revolution” (see Religious sisters lead the revolution against the climate crisis, Vatican newspaper says). If this is not intentional black humor, then there is something very wrong at the top of the Catholic world.

There never was a story so loaded with pseudo-religious worldly blather and buzz words. If this is the best that the proverbial brides of Christ have to offer, it is no wonder they have so few saintly children. The story is an exercise in preaching what the dominant culture tells us to preach, with the excuse that Pope Francis has already preached it in Laudato Sí. Apparently, what makes the Sisters’ work so special is that they do it “holistically”—not a bad thing, certainly, but still another high cultural buzzword.

Now don’t get me wrong. Is concern for environmental health legitimate? Yes. Is that concern most properly rooted in the Christian concept of Creation? Certainly. And ought working in this field to be a priority for Catholic clergy and religious today? Well…actually, no.

Why not? Because environmental awareness is already the mantra of the dominant secular culture in which we find ourselves. If a Christian has any special vocational role to play in this, it will involve pointing out where the dominant environmental concepts today distract people from the most important problem in the contemporary world. I mean not the environmental crisis but the spiritual crisis. Not the crisis of natural sustainability but the crisis of supernatural sustainability. The crisis, in other words, of perspective.

It is true that the Union of Superiors General has found a handy niche in the sustaining wall erected by Pope Francis in his encyclical on our Common Home. But it is also true that all the powers of the dominant culture of the West are already aligned in favor of environmentalism and sustainability. This is true even if care for the environment is still sometimes honored in the breach and if there is considerable debate about the appropriate scale of resources to be devoted to the issue. Let’s face it, the dominant culture has been piously reciting the mantras of environmentalism since at least the 1960s or 1970s. Despite many remaining problems, we have witnessed huge progress in the Western developed countries since I was a boy.

So let us think frankly and dare to think out loud. This is a pre-eminent bandwagon issue, considerably healthier but in the same dominant class as pop-causes such as making women more like men and men more like women, gay rights, gender ideology and State control of the education of children with the wrong kinds of parents. In fact this is one more worldly aspiration that is being given a Christian veneer primarily so that professional Christians whose faith is very shaky can find a renewed sense of secular relevance. But color me happy when I see women religious working against the sins that the dominant culture does not already recognize as sins. Color me relieved when I see women religious proclaiming Christ as the key to finding the hope and strength to embrace Catholic faith and morals against the popular grain.

And color me gloriously joyful when such religious become once again more concerned about saving souls than saving the planet. Let them try to engage the think tanks, steering committees, and powers of this world in that unpopular enterprise.

A case of not getting it at all

Huge segments of the Catholic Church are still living a double life, claiming the Catholic name and striving to be supported by the Catholic people while their institutions die in the service of worldly relevance. This problem afflicts not only too many bishops and priests but the majority of what we consider the old-line religious orders, not to mention its predominance in nominally Catholic universities and colleges. Huge segments of the Catholic Church are still far more concerned about making themselves appear relevant to the world than they are about knowing and preaching Christ and Him crucified. The goal is status and grants, not that souls may grow in an authentic faith, hope and charity which detaches them from the world and wins them eternal life.

It is true that some of this energy may be environmentally directed in very positive concrete ways, along the lines of the corporal works of mercy, such as in charitable efforts to improve the conditions on the ground in poor communities that cannot protect themselves from the Powers and Principalities of this world. But when it comes to issues like environmentalism as a whole, fidelity to Christ demands correcting the perspective of the more popular movements so that they do not—as they almost always do—become anti-human ideologies in their zeal for the fulfillment of a natural desire.

After all, the most important contribution of Catholic thinkers to the modern environmental movement is to correct that movement’s emphasis on the abolition of man in favor of the preservation of the natural world. The “environment” (the whole universe) is created by God, and the high point of this universe is the creation of man in the image and likeness of God. It is only in the Christian perspective that any popular movement takes on its true proportions, and it is only by teaching and preaching and praising the natural and supernatural realities that are being ignored in popular movements that any ultimate good can be done, both here and hereafter.

All is vanity without Christ. All is vanity unless and until Christ is taken up as the ultimate corrective and the ultimate hope, so that we might fulfill the destiny to which we are called, a destiny which far surpasses even our concern about the fallen state of the earth and its oceans. Only we Christians know that all of creation, as St. Paul put it, “has been groaning in travail together until now”:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [Rom 8:18-23]

All of our popular pseudo-religious posturing is an effort to retain some shred of worldly relevance. There are, of course, good reasons for Christians to work to protect and enhance the environment. It is a very bad thing indeed that so much of modern science, from climate change to gender change, has been corrupted in its goals, findings and applications by worldly fallacies and government grants in support of ideologically driven agendas. But corrections and improvements within the necessary disciplines are the mission of the laity, in accordance with their personal aptitudes and callings, always suitably inspired, enriched and improved by Christ and the Church. Such things are well-beyond the purview of professed “religious” who are called first and foremost to the service of particular human persons within the context of their supernatural destiny.

Sadly, too many religious communities today (mostly older both institutionally and personally) are failing precisely because they have lost the perspective of St. Paul, as he wrote to the Philippians: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8). Thus they are so busy proving their relevance to popular worldly trends that they rarely or never have time to bear witness against popular worldly evils. They never make statements or advocate solutions which cut across the grain of the dominant secular culture. They seek rather always to find their niche in the latest trends that meet with worldly acclaim, informally (but only rarely explicitly) abandoning their Catholic identity and supernatural claims.

Obviously, the corporal works of mercy are important to the Christian life, and particular religious orders may well be called to particular charisms in the practice of these works. But if religious are called in some way to reshape the world, they are called to do so one soul at a time. More important still, all religious are called first and foremost to sacrifice the things of this world in order to create a supernatural environment—a rich supernatural environment for those who are spiritually poor.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 29, 2023 3:42 PM ET USA

    Good synopsis of the current state of affairs in certain segments of religious life.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Apr. 28, 2023 11:16 PM ET USA

    Well said, Dr, Mirus! Perhaps these nuns, out of convent and without employment, might seek to staff Catholic schools once again. That suggestion, of course, must be tempered with the need for these nuns to first learn about their Faith; we do not need the young to be misled.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Apr. 28, 2023 10:22 PM ET USA

    Repeat after me three times: I will be relevant! I will be relevant! I will be relevant?

  • Posted by: tjbenjamin - Apr. 28, 2023 5:38 PM ET USA

    Perhaps these orders, like most everyone around me, believes in universalism, i.e., unless we are particularly evil, like Hitler, we are all going to heaven, including those who don’t believe in God or heaven. That seems to be the mindset in my part of the world—the western part of the USA. Probably in any Western nation, it would be very politically incorrect, not to mention unkind, to suggest otherwise. Unless your carbon footprint is too large…maybe then you go hell.