In today’s first reading, the princes, the priests, and the people of Judah offend God with many misdeeds. In particular, scripture tells us that they pollute the Lord’s temple (2 Chronicles 36: 14). Despite the many messengers God sends to warn the people, they do not listen. They mock God’s messengers and continue desecrating holy places. Finally, God exiles the people from their lands - it lays in waste as they flee (2 Chronicles 36: 15 – 16 & 21).
This cautionary tale has been a warning for all ages, and continues to be a warning today. We can see the parallels between the time of Judah and our time: we pollute the land we live on; people warn us, urging us to change our ways, but we send them away in derision. How far will we push these parallels? Will we be exiled from our lands because we’ve let them lay in waste?
Today’s Psalm speaks for the whole people of Judah when it cries out that “by the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137: 1). The people acknowledge their sins, but only after it is too late – the damage is done.
In our own day, we can see the damage we’re causing. Our pollution brings disease and death. Pollution of all kinds is “responsible for an estimated nine million premature deaths” each year. These nine million people often live in impoverished countries, or they live in impoverished communities in wealthy countries. A specific kind of pollution, air pollution, is causing the climate to change radically and dangerously. Climate change kills 250,000 people a year by exacerbating problems like malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhea, among many other problems.
Every country is grappling with the consequences of climate change. In Bolivia for example, important natural resources are disappearing. Benito was a fisherman who used to make a living on Lake Poopó. This lake was the second largest in the country, covering 390 square miles. By December of 2015, however, it had completely dried up. Benito is now without a job.
Francisco is a farmer in Bolivia who is also suffering from climate change. Because the rain is coming less often, he cannot grow enough food to live on and he does not have enough water for his farm animals.
Because of climate change, Benito and Francisco struggle to earn a living. Extractive industries create a significant amount of the air pollution that causes climate change. Pope Francis echoes global scientific and international consensus when he writes that, “we know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” Pope Francis is like one of those messengers sent by God to Judah in the first reading, urging the people to mend their ways. What choice will we make today? Will we listen to God’s messengers, or will we mock them?
Despite the grim picture that pollution and climate change paints, we know there’s hope. God is loving and merciful, inviting us to amend our ways. God is constantly sending messengers our way to help guide us in the right direction.
How have you seen the effects of pollution and climate change in your community? How are God’s messengers calling you and your community to act differently?
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