Fundamental Values: A Lifestyle of Simplicity and Moderation
(Part 6 in series on Fundamental Values)
Perhaps you read or heard about the recent remarks by Pope Francis in which he talks about the “culture of waste” that appears to dictate our modern lives. In recognition of World Environment Day (June 5), the Holy Father began his remarks with a set of rhetorical questions about our relationship to the rest of God’s creation:
“What does cultivating and caring for the earth mean? Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it?”
He then made a comparison to how a good farmer would treat the earth. “The verb to cultivate,” he said, “reminds me of the care that the farmer has for his land so that it bears fruit, and it is shared: how much attention, passion and dedication! Cultivating and caring for creation is God’s indication given to each one of us not only at the beginning of history; it is part of His project; it means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone.”
But by our sinful nature, “we are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not “care” for it, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a free gift that we must care for.”
Pope Francis is concerned that we have stopped listening to creation. In fact, he warns that we have moved away from God; we no longer read His signs that have appeared on the face of the earth.
To me, this points a harsh light on our excessive use of resources beyond sufficient comfort levels. In our desire to consume more and more, we exceed our individual wants and ultimately waste precious resources that could be share with many who go without. But more than a call to share with one another, I also hear the call for simplicity and moderation in our lives.
To propose a life style of moderation clearly goes against the prevailing culture of contemporary society. Besides cities and suburbs, many in farming and rural communities are not immune from the influences of consumerism. Given the fundamental values already highlighted in this series, an authentic rural culture would need to counter the culture of our day. Catholic rural life, rightly understood, should be able to show us how to live simply, moderately, and yet fully.
“It is not wrong to want to live better,” Pope John Paul II writes in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. “What is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being’ and which wants to have more not in order to be more, but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.” (n.36)
In other words, a life of just “having” is unworthy of human dignity. In order to live better, then, we must create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion are the factors which determine our consumer choices and economic practices.
For Catholic rural life and our many farm families, a serious moral decision confronts us. How is it possible to exist in the face of an agricultural industry that rewards “having” over “being”? Bishop George Speltz attempted to tackle this in the 1990s, partly in reflection of Pope John Paul’s encyclical, but also in his quest to promote “agriculture with a human face” as he titled one of his research papers.
The good bishop posed this challenging question: “Will family farmers measure their success by achieving a standard of living such as consumerism that constantly parades before them; or will they be willing to live with more modest expectations, eschewing consumerism, in return for the values of independence, healthy and sustainable living and working conditions and the real possibilities of stable and happy family life?”
The answer will depend very much on their spiritual and religious outlook, and that holds true for all of us. It depends on our values: the ones we actually live by rather than the ones we can only say we follow or aspire to.
Next in series: Putting it All Together