I set down the box in my hands and looked around. Suitcases and storage containers filled the room; my pets cautiously sniffed their way through piles of familiar objects now scattered in an unfamiliar place: this was our new home.
Hours earlier, I’d met the former owners at a downtown office, sitting across from them at a large conference table and signing papers to make what was once their house mine. During the years they’d lived there, the family had completely renovated the dwelling, doing most of the work themselves; walls, floors, plumbing and electrical systems had been painstakingly updated. New paving stones traced a curved path through the front yard, which was bounded by a sturdy, stylish fence.
On the mantle of the fireplace, the owners had graciously left a bouquet of flowers — and, to my surprise, a handwritten letter. “We loved this house,” it read. “And we hope you do too.”
In their note, they recalled their own purchase of the home from an elderly woman who had spent some 50 years there, raising her children and watching them in turn raise their own. After her death, the grandkids had actually sent a Christmas card to the family who had bought the house. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without saying hello to where Grandma lived,” they’d said.
I sat for a moment on the staircase and thought about the many people who had known joy, sorrow, labor and rest in the place I now called home. In the eyes of the law, those former residents had no claim on the property, yet in my heart, I felt connected to them, as if we were not owners but stewards of a shelter that had, for a time, been entrusted to each of us.
Most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about the once and future occupants of our current living spaces, but our planet is sending us a strong message that we should. Extreme weather events, rising temperatures, overflowing landfills, flooding and desertification all point to a mounting crisis — thanks in large part to destructive agricultural and energy practices, reckless production and consumption patterns, and a lack of authentic international cooperation in addressing the state of our shared environment.
As Pope Francis warns us, “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth” (Laudato Si’, 161).
Our concern (or lack thereof) for the planet is a moral and spiritual mirror, he observes: “Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with the ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centered culture of instant gratification” (Laudato Si’, 162).
And by “instant,” the pope could well be speaking of a time scale measured in nanoseconds, as our impatience tolerates no delay in satisfying our desires for consumer goods and services. Even we Christians, who profess belief in a communion of saints spanning eons past into eternity, can be as short-sighted as anyone else in our use of God’s creation, prioritizing immediate convenience over concern for those to come.
Yet Pope Francis reminds us “we need to see that what is at stake is our dignity. … The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn” (Laudato Si’, 160).
None of us know how brief that sojourn can be. Let us then humble ourselves under the mighty hand of the One who fashioned for us a home, and make it a place where all — even those generations ahead of us — are indeed welcome.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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