The voice of a prophet is not always welcome. Such was the fate of the prophet Amos, summarily dismissed from Israel’s northern kingdom in the eighth century BC. His words had been addressed to a kingdom of stark contrasts. The few exploited the land’s rich resources to the detriment of the impoverished many. The prophet’s anger was directed particularly at the conspicuous consumption of the elite. Fraud of every kind was rampant, always at the expense of the poor. The superficial religiosity that cloaked this exploitation attracted the prophet’s sharpest mockery.
In his encyclical letter on the environment, Pope Francis has called the whole world to a just and sustainable ownership
of our planet. Like Amos, he considers the impact of continued plundering of our planet’s resources. Like the prophet, he inextricably links excessive consumerism to the suffering of the poor. Many will undoubtedly question his analysis, but we would be wise not to ignore this modern prophetic voice. It is for us to revere the world’s resources as a gift from God and to preserve them for the common good of all.
The first mission of the Twelve is a stark commentary on what is, and what is not, truly necessary in our lives. The Apostles were dispatched with the bare minimum. “And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff. No bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses.” They were to wear sandals, but, he added, “do not take a spare tunic”.
Clearly these words were first and foremost addressed to the poverty that would allow Christ’s richness to shine through the lives of his emissaries. If the presence of Christ is hidden beneath the clutter of our possessions, it is unlikely that we shall become convincing witnesses to his Gospel.
Those first Apostles must have wondered how they would manage with less. Pope Francis certainly intends to provoke the same question among the rich industrial nations of the world. How can we manage with less? We cannot resolve this question until we first embrace Christ as the treasure containing all others.
Once we have made this first step, we can review the clutter that we unthinkingly amass. Such thoughts might well lead to the kind of repentance that turns away from an insupportable acquisitiveness. Let us not abuse the Creator’s generosity: “The Lord will make us propose and our earth shall yield its fruit. Justice shall march before him and peace shall follow in his footsteps.”