Sailing into the winds of environmental change

Small steps we can all consider for a personal ecological conversion

Photo by Orbtal Media on Unsplash

3 min read

Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” challenged Catholics and “all people living on this planet” (3) to change directions and begin living a more sustainable lifestyle that protects our planet and is in harmony with nature.

For many people, this call for an “ecological conversion”—which the Pope describes as a “radical transformation” of our hearts and minds toward greater love of God, each other and creation—can be difficult to start.

So how do we begin?

I often think of our need to change with the analogy of a beautiful sailing ship that glides through the water, with its sails billowing in the wind. How does it change direction? The answer lies in the rudder—that small piece of wood or metal that is attached to the back of the boat.

When the rudder is turned, it causes the ship to veer in a different direction. And, although it is only a very small piece of the ship, it has a significant impact. Without it, the ship would not be able to reach its destination.

Our choices are our rudders

The same is true for our lives. We are all like sailing ships, and our choices are our rudders. The choices we make determine the direction our lives will take. If we make good choices, our lives will take a positive direction. If we make bad choices, our lives could lead us into destructive waters and shorelines.

And, just like a small rudder can cause a large ship to change direction, a small choice can cause a big change in our lives.

So, what are some of these small choices or “baby steps” we can make to turn our rudder and our path toward a different lifestyle that is in line with Laudato Si’? Here are a few to consider:

Check the wind direction and currents. If we don’t stop to quiet ourselves, listen to our inner voice and become aware of which way the breeze of our lives is blowing, we likely will not find the motivation to change anything, and will just continue to react to the status quo.

Mindfulness of each present moment on a daily basis allows us to consider the “why” and the “how” that can turn thoughts into the right actions for our lives.

Take a simple inventory of your ship’s condition. Are the sails in good shape? Have we tested our oars so that when the wind dies down, we are able to row well? Are we taking on some water through small leaks in the ship’s hull that need to be patched?

Knowing ourselves and the condition of our mind, body and spirit can free us to tackle only what we are able to, until a time when preparations have made us more seaworthy for what could lay ahead.

Is your cargo right for the journey? Examine the storage area to prepare your ship and the crew for whatever lies ahead. Get rid of supplies that don’t have a real purpose or need. Use only supplies that are available in the nearest ports and not from far off distances.

Knowing that each item selected has a place, a purpose and is needed allows more room for the essential things. And remember, over time, with each voyage, you will learn to eliminate or add things that allow for the most efficient use of resources and space.

Is your crew filled with the same passion and vision? There are many people who want to be on the same voyage that you are on. Find supporters and a sailing community that sustain and inspire you with their own deeds and choices.

Ecological conversion is not a super-heroic, one-time event, but a lifelong journey and a process of transformation in which we come to see the world in a new way—as a gift from God and as our responsibility.

It begins with awareness and leads to action—actions that, though small, can make a big difference over the long haul. And remember—small turns of the rudder sometimes lead to temporary setbacks, so be patient with yourself because change takes time.

Taking a few small steps that are doable and for the long-term will give you the confidence needed to go farther than you could have imagined at the beginning of your voyage.

John Mundell was appointed in 2022 as the Vatican’s Director of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a digital community responsible for coordinating the implementation of Pope Francis’ encyclical.

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.