With the recent announcement of the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation,” we are again reminded that we have a duty to preserve what God has given to us. It reminds us that we are to be stewards of creation instead of masters, but what does that really mean? What does it mean to be a “steward?”

The typical definition of steward is, “a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others.” The key distinction here is that it denotes a person who is put in charge of “another’s property.” Being a steward means that we have been given the duty to manage something that is not ours.

This means that the earth is not somehow ours for the taking. We do not have ownership over it. Instead, we are “stewards” of God’s creation and must rightly “manage” what He has given us. This also means that there are right and wrong ways to “manage” it, as we are not the ones who make the rules. We must abide by the rules of the true Master of Creation, God Himself.

Another helpful term that describes our role in the world (and our care of creation) is “pilgrim.” Often we forget that the earth is not to be our “kingdom” that will last forever. Our kingdom will be in Heaven, where we will inherit what God desires to give to us. We are simply pilgrims on this earth, always striving to draw closer to our ultimate destination.

This beautiful image of being a “pilgrim” on this earth is often portrayed when we speak about the Church being a “ship” or the “barque of Peter.” A ship is not destined to always be at sea, but must be directed to some sort of port or final destination. Many saints have favored this analogy and it greatly helped them in their spiritual lives. For example, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote,

 “[T]he symbol of a ship always delights me and helps me to bear the exile of this life. Does not the Wise Man tell us—”Life is like a ship that passeth through the waves: when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found”? 

Also, we are reminded about being pilgrims every time we visit our local “parish” church. The Greek roots of this word stem from a Hellenistic term “paroikos” meaning “sojourners.” This term reminds us that we are called to live our lives as “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11 Douay-Rheims) in a land that is not ours.

Put in this context, a pilgrim realizes that everything is a gift. Creation is a gift from God and we have been put in charge over it for the time being. However, it is only temporary. The final destination is Heaven and so the created world around us is only to be used in accord with that end. We are not meant to “master” or “subdue” creation for our own selfish purposes. Instead, we must realize how our care of creation is meant to propel us further along the path to Eternal Shores.