by Fr. Mark Watson
Over the summer Pope Francis published his newest encyclical Laudato Si. This document challenges us to experience the beauty of all creation and therefore to both cherish and protect this gift.
Experiencing Nature with Wonder and Awe
The full title of the encyclical is Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. Laudato Si, or ‚ÄúPraised to You‚ÄĚ in English, are the opening words of the ‚ÄúCanticle of the Creatures‚ÄĚ by St. Francis. In the canticle, St. Francis praises God for various works of creation. We, like St. Francis, are to approach nature with a sense of awe and wonder.
Christians are Stewards of Creation
In the Book of Genesis, God is portrayed as seeing all of creation as good and humanity as being the height of creation. God gave humanity dominion over all creation. From a Christian perspective, dominion means responsible stewardship. The earth is the shared inheritance of all humans. The pope is concerned that humans will destroy habitats without considering the future consequences of their actions. He challenges readers to see that the way humanity either cares for or exploits the environment will affect how the earth is experienced by future generations.
The pope feels the current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which leads to ‚Äúcollective selfishness.‚ÄĚ While greed is a current reality, human beings are capable of moving beyond this focus on self. Laudato Si calls humanity to a new beginning which shows itself in a new reverence for life and a new concern for protecting the environment and working for peace and justice.
Shaping the Future of the Planet
Through this encyclical Pope Francis wishes to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable use of resources and to assist in bringing about the holistic development of each person. The pope is concerned that human exploitation of nature will not only destroy the environment but that those most affected will be the poor.
Pope Francis writes that climate change is a reality and is caused by human activity. In coming decades, developing countries will probably experience the greatest impact of climate change. While this is true, the pope still feels human activity can make a difference in protecting the environment from climate change.
Modern times have brought an excessive sense that humanity is at the center of the universe. This has led humanity to not respect nature and has blinded people to the future consequences of their actions. Pope Francis describes our culture as being a ‚Äúthrowaway culture‚ÄĚ as many ‚Äúuse and throw away‚ÄĚ resources in an irresponsible manner. This waste of resources leads to pollution and climate change. Laudato Si calls all people to make changes in lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat climate change.¬† There is a need for businesses to change policies so that the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced.
The Mystery of the Universe and the Loss of Biodiversity
God has a special love for all of creation and thus for every creature.¬† In fact, nature reveals God as shown in the following quote: ‚ÄúThe eternal power and divinity of God is made known through creation‚ÄĚ (Laudato Si, 12). Species have a value within themselves, and yet each year thousands of plant and animal species disappear forever and will never be seen by future generations.¬† In this way, the beauty of creation is continuously being lost.
The Value of the Human Person
Laudato Si emphasizes that human beings are endowed with unique dignity. Therefore, the pope is especially concerned about the effects of environmental deterioration on humanity. Central to the encyclical is the truth that everything is connected. The encyclical focuses not only on threats to plant and animal life, but also threats to humanity. Humanity faces one complex crisis which is both social and environmental, meaning that there is a connection between the issues surrounding human poverty and the issues which bring about the deterioration of the environment. Thus we must acknowledge ‚Äúthe worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities (117).‚ÄĚ The pope is concerned about the unhealthy environment in which many humans live and that the poor suffer most from environmental deterioration. Central to the document is the truth that we are one human family, and so there is no room for the ‚Äúglobalization of indifference (52).‚ÄĚ
Hope: Humanity Can Still Make a Difference
Underlying Laudato Si is a message of hope and a call to change: the earth has been gravely hurt by humans, but humanity can still repair the damage.¬† ‚ÄúHe (God) does not abandon us, He does not leave us alone, for He has united Himself definitively to our earth and His love constantly impels us to find new ways forward.‚ÄĚ (245)¬† ‚ÄĘ