One of the greatest tricks corporations ever pulled was making environmental impact the customer’s concern. “If you use our product, make sure to recycle it!” Read: focus on getting that plastic bottle made into the recycle bin, not whether we should have made plastic bottles in the first place. Instead of taking responsibility for their own actions, many corporate bodies shift environmental responsibility to the public instead. Subtle though it is, this is an adversarial approach.
The Church proposes a different attitude: listening. Recently, the word “synodality” has become something of a buzzword; at its center is the recognition that, because we are one body in Christ, the bishops are called to lead the Church communally. In 2021, Pope Francis initiated a unique preparation for a Synod, asking the bishops worldwide to seek input from the laity in their dioceses, allowing anyone and everyone to be heard as co-collaborators in the mission of the Church.
A life of humility and service depends on listening. Even as we are invited to share our perspectives, it is our responsibility to listen first so that we may know what we are called to share. God speaks to us in so many ways – personally, communally, spiritually. Among the many other voices that cry out, God speaks to us especially in those who suffer.
This means that listening to the poor and listening to the earth go hand in hand with one another. While we know that in the long run, environmental destruction will harm all of humanity, in the short term, pollution and environmental destruction typically affect vulnerable peoples. Will you find factories spewing toxic waste in rich neighborhoods or poor ones?
As the Church listens to its members, new calls from the Holy Spirit will emerge. I hope, however, that the synodal process does not end here but becomes part of how we challenge nations and international corporations to take responsibility and listen. All of us, from the laity to the corporate CEO are called to listen to God, to the least, and to the earth. We are called to act for instead of against the most vulnerable.