The Pope embraces the natural world

| September 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

Dear mother earth who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way
O praise God, alleluia!

In his second encyclical, the Pope charges that the Earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse.” (Photo: Edgar Jiménez)

In his second encyclical, the Pope charges that the Earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse.” (Photo: Edgar Jiménez)

These words from the well-known hymn, “All Creatures of our God and King,” have their origin in The Canticle of Creation, authored by St. Francis of Assisi, and with words drawn from that canticle, Pope Francis begins the second encyclical letter of his pontificate: “Laudato Sì — on care for our common home.”
In his encyclical, Pope Francis begins with an exclamation of joyful praise and thanksgiving for the gift of creation, but that is quickly followed by an expression of grave concern. As Pope Francis explains, the Earth “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.”
By personifying the environment, in keeping with the spirit of the Canticle of St. Francis, the Pope aims to encourage today’s men and women, individually and corporately, to see themselves as inhabitants of a common home, one that has long suffered misuse and abuse. And while it is true many have raised alarms to draw our attention to this misuse, there is always the danger of a false understanding of the deep and profound reasons for the current crisis as well as the appropriate and necessary remedies. For this reason, Pope Francis traces a trajectory of what he calls an “integral ecology” as a paradigm to express the fundamental relationships of the human person to God, to others and to the world.
The first stage is to recognize and acknowledge the crisis. Put another way, it is necessary to listen to the cry of creation by paying close attention to the best scientific data available. The outward and external evidence is clear: waste, pollution and the throwaway culture; issues surrounding water and its impact upon human life, health and well-being; the loss of biodiversity; the decline in the quality of human life and the rise of global inequality. Already, one sees the lines of the Holy Father’s approach — the quality of human life is intimately connected to care for the environment. For Pope Francis, “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach … so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” The Pope notes an attitude of “complacency and a cheerful recklessness,” not to mention an unwillingness to change lifestyle as well as habits of production and consumption. In this context, Pope Francis lends his support to “the establishment of a legal framework, which … can ensure the protection of ecosystems.”
As previously mentioned, at the heart of the encyclical is the desire to present an “integral ecology,” which Pope Francis develops in Chapter IV. According to the Pope, there is a relationship between environmental issues and social and human ones that can never be separated. A recognition of the interconnectedness of all things must lead to fostering an environmental, economic, social and cultural ecology (as part of this latter ecology, Pope Francis recalls the efforts to protect the cultural treasures of humanity, including those of indigenous communities). Likewise, the Pope urges improving the quality of human life by attending to adequate public space, housing and transportation, particularly in urban environments, where great numbers of people live). Finally, an integral ecology must embrace the principle of the common good, which must extend beyond the present to include
intergenerational solidarity.
Some commentators, self-styled defenders of the free market, have charged that the  encyclical Laudato Sì is against economic freedom; is an expression of anti-modernism and even of the Pope’s Marxism. In fact, there is nothing of this; rather it is the opposite. Pope Francis reminds us that the market and free enterprise are valuable allies in the pursuit of the common good if they do not become an ideology; if the part — the market — does not become the whole — life itself. The market is an essential dimension of social life in the quest for the common good. Several times, the encyclical praises responsible entrepreneurship and technology placed at the service of the marketplace when inclusive and capable of creating jobs. However, it is not the only dimension, nor even the primary one.
In this sense, the Pope longs for a marketplace that operates on the principles of reciprocity and mutual benefit. To that end, he criticizes companies that damage the Earth, because in so doing, they are denying the very nature of the marketplace, while enriching themselves and impoverishing those who are weaker.
Then Pope Francis points to something fundamental, and which is nowadays systematically neglected. The much-trumpeted “efficiency” — the slogan of the new global ideology — is never just a technical matter, nor ethically neutral. The calculations, which are the basis of every “rational” decision for firms and public administrations, depend principally on costs and benefits. For decades, firms that did not consider the damage done to the environment among its costs have nonetheless been considered efficient. The Pope invites us to broaden our perceptions, to embrace all species, including those within a cosmic brotherhood, extending reciprocity also to non-human species, giving them a voice in our political and economic budgets.
Pope Francis concludes his encyclical by recognizing that it will not be easy to reshape habits and behaviours. Education and training are essential as are changes to the ways we consume and use energy resources. He calls for an “ecological conversion,” which, in turn, will lead to creativity and enthusiasm, joy and peace and civic and political love.
Explains the Pope: “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures that break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” This must flow  into a “love for society and commitment to the common good.” Faith and Christian spirituality offer profound motivation and give ample proof that, “sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating.” St. Francis of Assisi was a stellar illustration of this truth.
Allow me to end with a suggestion. If you have not yet read this wonderful encyclical, do not start reading it in your studio or sitting on the couch. Get out of the house; go to the middle of a meadow or a forest to meditate on this canticle of Pope Francis. The land of which he speaks is a real Earth, touched, heard, smelled, seen, loved. And then, conclude your reading in an urban neighbourhood, among the poor, contrasting the world of the rich to the world of the poor, embracing the latter, as does Pope Francis. From these places, we can rediscover an awe for the wonders of the Earth and of all the creatures who dwell within it, so that we might understand and pray Laudato Sì, praise be to you, my Lord!

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