Laudato Sì: A Call to Conversion of Mind, Heart and Lifestyle On the Second Anniversary of its publication
There is a story within the story of Laudato Sì – Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical letter “On the Care of our Common Home.” The letter is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion – clearly, decisively and systematically.
The encyclical is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” and calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in the Pope’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth”. Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.
“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (160) This question is at the heart of Laudato Si’, the long anticipated Encyclical on the care of the common home by Pope Francis. “This question does not have to do with the environment alone and in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.” This leads us to ask ourselves about the meaning of existence and its values at the basis of social life: “What is the purpose of our life in this world? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” “Unless we struggle with these deeper issues – says the Pope – I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results.”
Laudato Sì is a privileged instrument of Evangelization of our contemporary world because it strives to answer the deeper questions about ecology and the environment within God’s revelation as found in his creation and the teachings of the Catholic Church. At this critical moment in history, what is at stake is not just our respect for biodiversity, but our very survival. Scientists calculate that those most harmed by global warming in the future will be the most vulnerable and marginalized. The dignity and rights of human beings are intimately and integrally related to the beauty and the rights of the earth itself. After all, who will dare to speak for the voiceless resources of our planet? Who will step up to protect the silent diversity of its species? Will our generation accept responsibility for pushing our environment over the tipping-point?
Laudato Si’ must be read not only as a work of Catholic social teaching, but also as great instrument of the first Evangelization and the new Evangelization, and a witness to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Pope Francis’ letter reflects a profound confidence and openness to the world. He draws on an ecumenical and interdisciplinary range of authorities — from scientists, saints and theologians to international agencies; from other world religious leaders to previous popes and Catholic bishops conferences in every continent and even a Sufi mystic in one of his footnotes.
Laudato Sì is a perfect example of how the Church, at the highest level, understands the modern world, enters into a profound dialogue with the world, and repeats again her age-old message of salvation in a new way.
With Laudato Sì Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration. For in the end, it is in the name and mission of Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope issues his call to conversion – a compelling invitation to each of us to look at the earth and all of its creatures with the loving eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. This is clearly a first Evangelization for those who may encounter Jesus for the first time, and a new Evangelization or wake-up call to those who once new Jesus and drew distant from him.
Against those who argue that a papal encyclical on the environment has no real authority, Pope Francis explicitly states that Laudato Si “is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching.” (15) It continues the church’s reflection on modern-day problems that began with Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, on capital and labor, published in 1891.
Laudato Si is a “systematic” approach to the problem. First, the Pope links all human beings to creation: “We are part of nature, included in it, and thus in constant interaction with it.” (139) But our decisions have an inevitable effect on the environment. A blind pursuit of money that sets aside the interests of the marginalized and the ruination of the planet are connected.
Pope Francis does not try to “prove” anything about climate change. Rather, his encyclical accepts the best scientific research available today and builds on it. So Laudato Si draws on both church teaching and contemporary scientific findings from other fields to help modern-day people reflect on a contemporary crisis.
The heart of what the Encyclical proposes is integral ecology as a new paradigm of justice; an ecology “which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings.” In fact, “nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live.” This is true as we are involved in various fields: in economy and politics, in different cultures particularly in those most threatened, and even in every moment of our daily lives.
The integral perspective also brings the ecology of institutions into play: “if everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions affects the environment and the quality of human life. “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.”
With many concrete examples, Pope Francis confirms his thinking that “the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, and of how individuals relate to themselves.” “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
“Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good,” but is to be understood in a concrete way. In today’s context, in which, “injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable,” committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on “a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.” This is also the best way to leave a sustainable world for future generations, not just by proclaiming, but by committing to care for the poor of today, as already emphasised by Benedict XVI: “In addition to a fairer sense of inter-generational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intra-generational solidarity.”
Integral ecology also involves everyday life. The Encyclical gives specific attention to the urban environment. The human being has a great capacity for adaptation and “an admirable creativity and generosity is shown by persons and groups who respond to environmental limitations by alleviating the adverse effects of their surroundings and learning to live productively amid disorder and uncertainty.” Nevertheless, authentic development presupposes an integral improvement in the quality of human life: public space, housing, transport, etc.
Also “the acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
Dialogue and openness
The earth is paying the price for our selfishness. Purely technological responses to the ecological crisis do not get to the heart of the problem, which can only be addressed through our moral and spiritual conversion. And for Pope Francis, central to this conversion is dialogue with both human and non-human creatures.
Dialogue cannot take place from a position of insularity, but requires radical and generous openness to the other that is both born from, and leads to, a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. This dialogue is not rooted in a “light-hearted superficiality,” but rather in a willingness truly to be attentive to the other to such a degree that love for the other characterizes our interactions with them.
CREATION series on Salt and Light Television
Salt and Light Television has produced a six-part series that seeks to find the answer within God’s revelation as found in his creation and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Creation shows that dealing with environmental issues by focusing on political, economic, or ideological solutions alone is noble, but lacking. Instead, what the Catholic Church has said over the centuries about the sacredness of all creation can lead us to real answers to today’s environmental challenges – answers grounded in the truth of creation as good, full of dignity, and deserving of our care.
Creation takes us all over North America to meet people with stories that highlight Catholic environmental principles. Our stories draw attention to many issues – waste management, urban and local farming, water shortages, contamination and waste water treatment– and offer the answers that many of you are seeking with regards to our concerns about the environment.
For more information on the series, visit: http://saltandlighttv.org/creation/