Thursday, June 18, 2015

"On Care for Our Common Home"

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; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (Laudato Si', 2).

This morning, Pope Francis issued his much awaited encyclical on the environment - Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home - explicitly identified by the Holy Father an addition to the body of the Church's social teaching (Laudato Si', 15). Its Italian title (“Praised be”) comes from the famous Canticle of the Creatures of Saint Francis of Assisi, a poetic prayer that captures especially effectively a core component of Saint Francis' spirituality, a spirituality the Pope is proposing for retrieval today. Meanwhile, both the problem and the solution find expression in the subtitle - On Care for Our Common Home. For indeed the earth is our home - our only home this side of eternity - and, like any home, it must be adequately and properly cared for. It is also our common home, For, as Pope Francis has again reminded us: The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property (Laudato Si', 93).

Most of us have already lived much of our livesunder the darkening shadow of environmental degradation and its consequences for the world and for the future of human life and civilization. Already in 1971, Blessed Pope Paul VI warned the world: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation” (Octagesima Adveniens, 21). As the evidence has piled up and the scientific understanding of what is happening has become more certain, subsequent popes – both Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI - have also addressed this crisis directly. Now Pope Francis has highlighted the Church’s concern by devoting an entire encyclical to this important topic, drawing on the insights of scientists, philosophers, theologians, and religious leaders - among them (surely something of an innovation in a papa;l encyclical) statements on the subject made by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. 

As such documents increasingly tend to be, the encyclical is lengthy and detailed. Rich in substance, it warrants attentive reading and meditation. Having done a quick first-read today, I will be re-reading it reflectively in the days to come, commenting opportunely on its moral and political challenges to us as individuals and as societies. That is what we all will need to be doing - together - in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

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