Vocation ministry in a connected, ecologically fragile world

Vocation ministry in a connected, ecologically fragile world

By Andrew, Br. David Andrews C.S.C.

Brother David Andrews, CSC suggested that vocation ministers—by helping people go deeper with their faith—assist in creating a spiritual climate that supports sustainability.

WHAT IS GLOBALIZATION? The word seems to be on every new book jacket. It is a word that seems to some to account for every upward or downward trend in the stock market. It is a term that to Christians has some religious resonance; after all, is not the command of the Lord to go out to the world to preach the good news? “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). How does the globalizing process of encouraging discipleship within Christianity, including religious life, coincide with the economic globalization process?

Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells’ three-volume work, The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture (1998), states:

A new world is taking shape in this end of the millennium. It originated in the historical coincidence around the late 1960s and mid-1970s of three independent processes: the information technology revolution, the economic crisis of both capitalism and statism, and their subsequent restructuring; and the blooming of cultural social movements, such as libertarianism, human rights, feminism, and environmentalism ... the interactions between these processes and the reactions they triggered brought into being a new dominant social structure, the network society ... and the new information/global economy and a new culture.1

Thus Facebook claims the attention of millions of us. While some claim that globalization is primarily an economic phenomenon, some, such as the British social theorist Anthony Giddens, claim otherwise. Here are three insights he provides about globalization.

1) Globalization is not only, or even primarily, an economic phenomenon; and it should not be equated with the emergence of a “world system.” Globalization is really about the transformation of space and time. I define it as action at distance, and relate its intensifying over recent years to the emergence of means of instantaneous global communication and mass transportation.

2) Globalization does not only concern the creation of large-scale systems, but also the transformation of local, and even personal, contexts of social experience. Our day-to-day activities are increasingly influenced by events happening on the other side of the world. Conversely, lifestyle habits have become globally consequential. Thus my decision to buy a certain item of clothing has implications not only for the international division of labour but for the earth’s ecosystem.2

Giddens captures this dialectical process when he writes:

3) Globalization is not a single process but a complex mixture of processes, which often act in contradictory ways, producing conflicts, disjunctures and new forms of stratification. Thus, for instance, the revival of local nationalisms, and an accentuating of local identities, are directly bound up with globalizing influences, to which they stand in opposition.3

Catholics are getting greener

This understanding of the complex network of cause and response seems to have influenced the church’s approach to education and environmentalism. In a conscious response to the environmental and cultural issues created by globalization, the church has encouraged intellectual engagement with cultural and environmental issues at the regional level:

In its service to society, a Catholic university will relate especially to the academic, cultural and scientific world of the region in which it is located. Original forms of dialogue and collaboration are to be encouraged between the Catholic universities and other universities of a nation on behalf of development, of understanding between cultures and of the defense of nature [my emphasis] in accordance with an awareness of the international ecological situation.4

Seemingly in response to this charge, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education just held its fifth annual meeting in Denver, with 2,500 people in attendance and among them a growing representation of faith-based institutions. Last year in October, Notre Dame held its own Catholic campus sustainability meeting, and it was over-subscribed, with more than 250 people from 25 institutions attending.

The notion of sustainability is growing in the face of globalization. John Paul II, in the face of globalization, conducted a series of ecclesio-geographic studies of the status of the church in its different regions. Globalization has given rise to localization, and localization recognizes that there are planetary challenges that can only be met by local action.

Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe and the Americas merited different levels of attention in John Paul II ’s initiative. In The Church in America, his 1999 study of the Americas, John Paul said: “However, if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative.

These are, for example, the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the environment and natural resources, the growing distance between the rich and the poor, unfair competition which puts the poor nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority” (#20). John Paul II links social equity, the ecology and economic development, these elements of sustainability, to the globalization process.

The Holy Father underlined the moral responsibility of the church before the growing phenomenon of globalization: “The Church in America is called ... to cooperate with every legitimate means in reducing the negative effects of globalization, such as the domination of the powerful over the weak, especially in the economic sphere, and the loss of values of local cultures in favor of a misconstrued homogenization” (#55).

In the same document, the Holy Father went on to indicate clearly the erroneous view of humanity that underlies certain social and political structures in our day: “More and more, in many countries of America, a system known as ‘neo-liberalism’ prevails; based on a purely economic conception of man, this system considers profit and the laws of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples” (#56 ).

Concern throughout the faith

This vision of striving for the common good in a globalized world is shared by other Christian denominations. In a similar vein, on February 2, 1999 the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, of Constantinople spoke to the annual Davos, Switzerland meeting of the World Economic Forum. His theme was “The Moral Dilemmas of Globalization.” He presented a moral framework for the world’s leading economists, politicians and dignitaries to consider:

When ranking values, the human person occupies a place higher than economic activity; neither is there any doubt that economic progress, which is present when there is growth in economic activity, becomes useful when—and only when—it serves to enhance the non-economic values that make up human culture. The advance of humanity towards globalization is a fact arising primarily out of the private sector, in particular they are the desires of multinational economic giants.

Christian ecumenicity differs substantially from globalization. The former is based on love for one’s brother and sister and respects the human person whom it also seeks to serve. The latter is primarily motivated by the desire to enlarge the market and to merge different cultures into a new one, in accordance with the convictions of those who are in a position to influence the world-wide public.

Unfortunately, globalization tends to evolve from a means of bringing the peoples of the world together as brothers and sisters, to a means of expanding economic dominance of the financial giants even over peoples to whom access was denied because of national borders and cultural barriers.

The Gospel saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4), should be more broadly understood. We cannot live by economic development alone, but we must seek the “word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4); that is, the values and principles that transcend economic concerns. Once we accept these, the economy becomes a servant of humanity, not its master. 5

The Patriarch indicates that the Christian faithful should seek an alternative path for the new global village, one that works for a world cultural community that respects the human person, the environment and seeks a value rather than a profit oriented standard for global integration. In part this is what the late Pope John Paul II referred to when he spoke about the “globalization of solidarity.”

I suggest that the way forward is to follow the directions mapped out by Benedict XVI in his Caritas in Veritate by the Catholic Coalition for Climate Change and the National Religious Partnership on the Environment as well as in the global perspective of many youth—that is by following the way of sustainability through the defense of nature, by going deep, by invoking an intensified spirituality of sustainability.

What is spirituality? What is sustainability? What would a spirituality for sustainability be? How can we fashion a “still point in a turning world?” What can respond effectively to the increasing reach of globalization is the intensification of spiritual depth. This is something that can answer to bewildering globalization: a spirituality and an interiority awake to the context of sustainability.

Spiritual growth can soften globalization

Before we can advance spiritually—and thus perhaps assuage the coarser effects of globalizing—we must understand spirituality. It is a steepening, like soaking tea leaves. It is a steepening of the mind and heart, body and soul. We are the leaves, the bodies immersed in a broth of mystery, absorbing the way of nature and the way of transcendence.

Spirituality is a way of living. It is an attitude, a motivation, a feeling practiced and a practiced feeling. A feeling practiced becomes a habitual way of feeling. And a practiced feeling points to the recurrence as well as the deepening that comes with a process of valuation, recurrent integration and sustained conviction. Spirituality is not the end or purpose of living, the goal for which one lives. It is a manner, a style, process or method by which one lives in light of the goal. It is the stuff of character by which one creates character. Spirituality shows itself in the seasoning, which accompanies one’s way of being. Like tea, one can be steeped! It is the steepening which gives character to one’s spirituality.

How are you steeped? Are you steeped into some tradition, a way of life and being which has informed your thoughts, your words, your choices and actions? How have you steeped yourself? Lightly or thoroughly?

One can be steeped deeply or weakly as tea can be. Steepening is a matter of the mind and heart, body and behavior. It is a deepening, like a descent into a cool, refreshing spring. It is a thickening, like the fashioning of a community. A community can be profound as well as superficial; it can be intimate in its deep ecology and deep economy, or it can be all surface. Community is the achievement of common meaning … what meanings are shared among the new religious to be? Are they developed and fashioned into a depth, or are they undeveloped and only surface … like strangers passing in the night, like a veneer that is removed with ease, that doesn’t get absorbed for longevity and sustainability?

Vocation ministers discern depth

We are not alone in our endeavors. This, I believe, is the truth of our existence. We are not alone, atoms. We are part of a community. The poet John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, no man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s peace is my own.” Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: “I am a part of all that I have met.” We are not alone. We are participants in a communal venture or search. That search for direction in life is something that may be found or missed. This is our work as vocation ministers, to accompany the search, to help discover the direction authentic for the day, to discern depth, potential for depth.

I propose that our searching and finding is one where we discover that we have partners along the way. The search for direction is a partnership: with the energetic rhythms of the cosmos and with the transcendent measure drawing us, luring us, to attune with itself. The vocation minister is a partner in this process. We are discerners. So the deepening is a thorough and grounded finding. We in vocation ministry assist in searching and in finding—searching and finding the truth about existence.

As Christians we find the world-transcendent measure in Christ: incarnate, crucified and raised from the dead. In him the search for the truth about existence finds the searcher becoming the one who is searched for. As Saint Augustine put it: “You would not be seeking me had you not already found me.”

A spirituality is a being-in-love. It is being in love with nature. Being in love with God. Loving our neighbors as ourselves and including in the circle of friendship animate and inanimate life.

The cosmological way is the way of the earth. It is the way of kinship with the earth, with the springs, the fountains, the water courses, with the flowers, birds, two and four footed creatures. This is the way of an original blessing, a partnership with the cosmos by which we see ourselves as a part of the garden and accept the directive to “care for and to tend the garden” (Genesis 2:15). We are part of all creation, which itself “groans for its completion.”

We are one with the biotic community: “No less than the trees and the stars, we have a right to be here.” Such a way is at one with the Transcendent Being: authentic partnership with nature is partnership with God. “We are one in the web of life.” This is how the American hierarchy put it in “Renewing the Earth.” Sustainability sees the integration of economic, social justice and environmental concerns as the integral bottom line. Social ecology and natural ecology belong together, said the American bishops in Renewing the Earth. This is not just a matter of greening religious conviction, it is a matter of seeing social equity, planetary ethics and economic viability as an integrated whole.

The transcendent way is the way of going beyond the senses, the imagination, concepts and judgments to a realm beyond—mystery properly so called. The cosmological way and the transcendent way are not contradictory. Transcendence can encompass the cosmos without disruption. The cosmos is God’s word, just as the Scripture is.

Broadly speaking, I understand religion as a conscious orientation by human beings toward an incomprehensible, gracious and saving mystery which in our cultural context we usually call “God,” but which others may call by different names. Muslims call it Allah, Hindus Brahman, Buddhists nirvana or dharma, Lakota Indians wakan, Taoists the Tao. My own preference is to think of religions generally as ways of orienting us toward the inexhaustible, enlivening and liberating depth of reality that is the context of our seeking we may call by the name “mystery.”

Here is the context of steepening. There is in the world a charged field of love and meaning we enter through some such steepening process. For some of us, the contemplation of nature is God’s silent communion with us. The cosmos becomes a portal for mystery, while retaining its own beauty and attraction. Our care for creation is linked to the Creator’s care for the community of the cosmos that is habitat, home. We Christians speak of a sacramental vision of the universe. A sacramental perspective is a sustainable perspective. “Natural and social ecologies belong together.” The web of life is one. Partnership with nature and partnership with God are related elements in an integral spiritual vision. This vision can be deepened over time, and that can sustain us for the long haul as we seek, as Tennyson said, “a newer world”— what Christians call “the Reign of God.”

Vocation search connected to spirit of sustainability

Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher at McGill University has written a book about secularity. He explores the possibility of religious conviction in a secular age where the fundamental conditions of faith are questioned. He has a significant insight into motivation that I think is relevant to our interest in sustainable spirituality, especially for those of us in the field of answering human hungers or heart’s desires. His book, A Secular Age, addresses what he calls the notion of “fullness.”

I believe this can be said about us, those of us here today: “We all see our lives, and/or the space wherein we live our lives, as having a certain moral/spiritual shape. Somewhere, in some activity, or condition, lies a fullness, a richness; that is, in that place (activity or condition), life is fuller, richer, deeper, more worthwhile, more admirable, more what it should be.”6 This is true in lives of generous service, in the place where spiritual provisioning is the goal, especially providing hope for the long haul. This is surely part of vocation ministry, opening doors to a full, rich, deep life.

I think this motivating fullness characterizes a spirituality of sustainability. The more we enter into the complexities involved in our efforts, the more deeply we move into the desires and fears associated with the contexts of our service. We then recognize the fullness inherent in our intentional quest, even without the realization of a satisfaction. We don’t live always in the pleroma, the fullness, but we do have glimpses from time to time, and that sustains us.

A spirituality of sustainability can inform our perspectives as the bishops of Appalachia wrote in At Home in the Web of Life:

In our present times, we believe,
the mighty wind of God’s Spirit is stirring up
people’s imaginations
to find new ways of living together,
based especially on the full community
of all life, including

love of nature,
and love of the poor.

We call these new ways
The rooted path of sustainable communities.

These sustainable communities will
Conserve and not waste,
Be simpler but better,
Keep most resources circulating locally,
Create sustainable livelihoods,
Support family life,
Protect the richness of nature,
Develop people spiritually,
And follow God’s values.

Sustainable Development:

In the judgment of many people,
A sustainable society would build primarily
On the rooted informal local economy,
All in communion with the local ecosystem.

In sustainable development,
All businesses new or old,
Local or from the outside,
Need to respect the divine order
Of social and natural ecology.

We can learn to be partners with nature and God, to abide in the dynamics of globalization without losing our footing in mystery, depth, fullness, with a spirituality steeped in an integral communion that sees no contradiction between the wedding of Spirit and Earth, a spirituality of sustainability—of communion. We can participate in the seeking and finding as vocation ministers, accompanying those who are engaging in the search for direction in the meaning of life. In this age of globalization, we need to recognize our responsibility to earth and to each other. We are all beginners in a new age of spirituality and sustainability, as the poet Denise Levertov hinted in her poem, “Beginners.” And so I bring to an end this reflection on vocation ministry, globalization and spiritual steepening with a few words from Ms. Levertov’s poem:

Hope and desire set free, Even the weariest river Winds somewhere to the sea— But we have only begun To love the earth. We have only begun To imagine the fullness of life. How could we tire of hope?—so much is in bud.


Connected in love
Love in truth—caritas in veritate—is a great challenge for the church in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized. The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas In Veritate, June, 2009


Spirituality for sustainability
Some elements of a spirituality for sustainability might be the following.

Long-term perspectives: A spirituality of sustainability looks toward the long term as the focus of one’s perspective. Such a consciousness can be immersed in the here and now, but only for the time being; it’s general orientation is for the long haul, and the perspective is generational. Our goal is that the next generation benefit from earth’s generosity as have previous ones.

Self-transcendent: A spirituality of sustainability is oriented to personal and communal growth, toward self transcendence and group transcendence, not the exponential growth of markets, but the growth that allows insight and emotion to shift with the broadening perspective of what is for the common good.

Communal: Communion with nature, communion with God is our purpose. The rhythms of cosmic process lose our allegiance completely when our partnership with them is transmuted beyond recognition by our passion for mastery, control, and instrumental exploitation. We need to nurture a meditative spirit that balances reason’s will to power with the soul’s innate place within the beauty already bestowed as gift: that is, with friends, family, our garden, our land.

Gentleness: This quality is captured in the notion that we should walk lightly upon the earth, or live simply so that others may simply live.

—Brother David Andrews, CSC


Looking to go deeper?
To further explore the ideas presented in this article, see the following resources.

“Sustainability: new membership through an ecological lens,” by Sister Mary Pellegrino, CSJ, HORIZON, Summer 2006, p. 3. (NRVC members can download this issue of HORIZON from www. nrvc.net. Click on “publications;” then click “HORIZON archives.”)

The Circle of Life, by Sister Joyce Rupp, OSM, Sorin Books, 2005

The Green Bible, by Stephen Bede Scharper, Lantern Books, 2002

The Sacred Universe: Earth Spirituality and Religion (Columbia University Press, 2009) and The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth (Orbis Books, 2009), by Father Thomas Berry, CP.

Eco Catholic blog, by Rich Heffern of the National Catholic Reporter, ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic

Catholic Coalition on Climate Change catholicsandclimatechange.org/


1. Quoted by Hazel Henderson. Beyond Globalization: Shaping a Sustainable Global Economy. West Hartford, CT : Kumarian Press, 1999.

2. Anthony Giddens. Beyond Left and Right. Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press, 1994. p. 4-5.

3. Ibid.

4. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Vatican Press, 1996, #37.

5. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. “The Moral Dilemmas of Globalization.” www.patriarchate.org. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

6. Charles Taylor. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007. p. 5.


Brother David Andrews, CSC has been a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Eastern Brothers’ Province for more than 45 years. He is the senior representative at Food & Water Watch, a consumer organization dedicated to ensuring healthy food and water. Brother David has advocated for and written about food, water, farming and development issues at a national and international level, including a period of service as senior advisor on food, water and development to the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.


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