Rausch highlights sustainability with spirituality

ROCK HILL—Serious economic and environmental problems could be solved if more people would simply follow the concept of charity set forth in the Gospels.

Jesus’ teachings about how to treat others have special relevance in today’s culture, according to Glenmary Father John S. Rausch, director of the Catholic Committee on Appalachia.

Father Rausch delivered the annual Cardinal Newman Lecture Feb. 19 at The Oratory in Rock Hill. His two presentations were “Speaking about Sustainability: Bringing Gospel Values about Creation to the Marketplace” and “Let’s Use Symbols to Move People’s Hearts.”

In an interview with The Miscellany, Father Rausch said the key to addressing complicated issues such as climate change and poverty is an understanding of the Catholic concept of stewardship, or wise use of resources given by God.

“Sustainability means today’s generation being respectful enough that it doesn’t use up and limit the opportunities future generations will have,” he said. “It’s about looking at the common good over time, and realizing creation has intrinsic value to it.”

He said many people are too concerned with accumulating more possessions or prestige. They risk becoming like the man in the parable of the rich fool who tears down his barns to build bigger ones to store possessions, but does nothing to honor God or His commandments. The pursuit of wealth can even become a form of idolatry, a sin condemned in the Bible.

“The constant harping on more and greater wealth can absolutely go against the care of creation and the development of community,” he said.

A blind pursuit of wealth without concern for others led to situations like the recent financial crisis, which largely resulted from the sale of mortgage products which ended up having no value. People who live only for material gain, in turn, face emptiness if their material wealth disappears.

Being charitable doesn’t require elaborate gestures.

Simple actions like recycling or shopping for local produce at a farmer’s market go a long way toward helping the environment and also help people become more conscious of God’s gift of creation, he said.

Helping the poor or unemployed doesn’t always mean giving material things. Parishes can set up programs that teach job-search skills, budgeting, cooking or provide a time for people to meet and talk about their needs.

“The point is to catch people up in a self-improvement mode, and to get people together to work not just to benefit themselves but others,” he said. “Poverty is not simply the absence of money, but it’s the absence of opportunity and the feeling of power to run your own life.”

Stepping away from materialism and technology is a good first step for people who want to reconnect with the Gospel message, he said.

True satisfaction often comes from simple activities such as playing a musical instrument, walking outdoors, games, conversation, reading Scripture, silent prayer and reflection.