This upcoming Monday night, October 12th, St. Mary’s and the Oregon State Newman Center are sponsoring a panel discussion on Laudato Si, the Pope’s new encylical. In preparation for that panel I met with a group of Newman Center students last night, and I used this handout, below, to ground our discussion. It’s a series of quotes from the document.
Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home
Pope Francis, 2015
Laudato Si, mi Signore—praise to you, my Lord. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. . .
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air, and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (7)
With paternal concern, Pope Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “when we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” (10)
The Biblical Mandate
The creation accounts in the Book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. . . . The harmony between the Creator, humanity, and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. . . .
We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants us “dominion” over the earth, has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting us as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. . . The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world. “Tilling” refers to cultivating, plowing, or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. . .
The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings . . . (47-49)
The Value of Creatures in Themselves
We are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes. . . . The Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves . . . We can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own goodness and perfection.” (50)
All creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. (58)
Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself; the same is true of the harmonious ensemble of organisms existing in a defined space and functioning as a system. (95)
How Everything is Connected
When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities, it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself. Everything is connected. (79)
Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? (81)
The Plight of the Poor
Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry . . . Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms . . . (22)
The social dimensions of global change include the effects of innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. . . (32)
We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (35)
On Concrete Questions
On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair. . . . (42)
Our Interior Deserts and Ecological Conversion
When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously . . The great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload . . True wisdom . . . is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload, a confusion, a sort of mental pollution. (33)
“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast” (Pope Benedict). For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion” whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. (141)
A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation
Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!
Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.
Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!
Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.
God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! Amen.