God calls us to commit to “ecological conversion,” the ongoing transformation of our hearts toward greater love with our Creator and creation. We take time to listen to God’s message in creation “with awe and wonder” (LS 11). We reflect on our words and actions, humbly acknowledge where we are falling short, and practice new ways of living simply and in solidarity with creation.
Ecological conversion is the transformation of hearts and minds toward greater love of God, each other, and creation. It is a process of acknowledging our contribution to the social and ecological crisis and acting in ways that nurture communion: healing and renewing our common home.
Conversion reflects the meaning of the Greek word metanoia, which means a change of heart and mind. Scripture often invites us to seek a new heart, a clean heart, a heart of flesh, not stone. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). A renewed heart is a grace given by God, always a gift, sought by prayer.
Conversion also derives from the Latin for “turning to,” meaning turning to God, turning toward the harmony of relationships that God intends, and turning away from sin. Laudato Si’ interprets the world in relational terms: “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.” Yet “these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us” (LS 66). Humans have often been more “despots” than gardeners. Indeed it was to urge a turning from despotic dominion of the earth that the term “ecological conversion” was first brought into the body of Catholic social teaching by St. John Paul II in his message for General Audience on Jan 17th 2001.
The call to ecological conversion challenges us to recognize honestly that our world and our lives are marked by sin. Failure to live justly and share the goods of creation, and failure to honor the sacred beauty of creation, have led to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss we now confront.
It can be painful to acknowledge the role of our sin in the ecological crises. Still, as disciples we are asked to become “painfully aware,” (LS19) and from this awareness comes the grace of new possibility. Pope Francis teaches that the crises humanity now faces are a “summons to profound interior conversion.” Such an ecological conversion restores our broken relationships as our companionship with Jesus transforms our way of being. “[T]he effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (LS 217).
Through an ecological conversion, St. John Paul II writes, “men and women are once again walking in the garden of creation, seeking to make the goods of the earth available to all and not just to a privileged few.” The abundance of the Scriptural jubilee years is restored; rest and renewal comes to the earth.
This conversion is deeply rooted in the right reverence due to God as Creator. Ecological conversion bears fruit in new virtues and graces (LS 220). It is a deep personal change that goes beyond acknowledging a doctrine, to embodying a familial, loving spirituality that embraces all our brothers and sisters in creation, “even the smallest,” (LS 246), for God is present within all.
Reflecting both our social nature and the systemic nature of the crises, personal virtue and change must be accompanied by a “bold cultural revolution” (LS 114). “The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion.”(219) Working in solidarity, each one’s personal ecological conversion and shared community conversion leads to care for our common home.