By: Fr. Jeff Allen
Laudato Si! Huh? I bet that foreign statement is not from a language you recognize. That’s because it’s Latin, the universal language of the Church, which translates as “Praise be to you” (my Lord). “Laudato Si” refers to the first two words of the latest encyclical letter written by our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Have you read it? The letter is on the care for our common home – Mother Earth, and it is a lengthy letter meant to challenge not only the 1 billion + Catholics in the world, but also the other 6 billion people who share the planet with us on how to better care for God’s ailing creation.
Never has there been so much buzz about a letter coming from a pope as this one, and it sure got a lot of attention from the media as we saw on our TVs and computers. Before the encyclical (a papal letter sent to all the bishops of the Catholic Church) went public, there was much anticipation as to what it was going to be about. Some pre-encyclical predictions seemed either hopeful or upset, while others seemed anxious or cautious. Prior to the publishing of the letter, there was an alleged leak by a high ranking Church official to one of the members of the media which heightened the drama even more. But when it went public, and did it ever, the vatican website attracted so much attention that I had trouble for a few minutes (what seemed like an eternity) trying access it on the vatican website (www.vatican.va), and maybe you did too. Now that the dust has settled and the drama subsided, let’s do a brief overview of the letter, capture some highlights and examine key quotes.
What is the structure of it? It’s divided into six major chapters:
- What is Happening to Our Common Home
- The Gospel of Creation
- he Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis
- Integral Ecology
- Lines of Approach and Action
- Ecological Education and Spirituality
The letter concludes with a short piece on Mary followed by two prayers. In addition, the pope’s letter addresses other important topics including government policy, corporations, climate, fish, water, forestry, pollution, personal responsibility, peace, politics, the economy and a good summary on how people and companies misuse earth’s resources to maximize profits (195).
How does it begin? Pope Francis begins his encyclical by wisely quoting some of his predecessors, namely, Pope St. John XXIII, Blessed Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. This is followed by the testimony and spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.
What were some of his main points?
- Love of creation – “Love and accept the wind, the sun and the clouds, even though we cannot control them. In this sense, we can speak of a “universal fraternity” (228). In addition, Pope Francis says, “Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection” (77). The pope calls us to love God’s creation no matter how small in size or how long or short in time (in terms of existence). Speaking of creation, I want to compliment all of you who do such a wonderful job in being generous and good stewards of creation through the wonderful care of our grounds at the St. Stephen and Our Lady of Guadalupe worship sites as well as congratulate the crew at the St. Joseph site which has received beautifying awards from the city in recent years.
- Technology and Relationships – The pope states: “When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously” (47). This may get us to think how technology and the use of it, especially the overuse of it, can cause us isolation and selfishness and result in thinking more about ourselves rather than on God, others and the care and concern for our environment. The pope affirms this later in his letter. He states: “The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures” (240).
- Pro-life and the poor – “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected” (117). “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?” (120).
- Respecting the experts – Pope Francis was criticized prior to the encyclical being published by politicians Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush that he (the pope) should stick to morality and Church-related issues rather than comment on climate change, energy and economic policy. What may be surprising to some is that our pope has the background of a chemist. Though he is not an expert, he respects those with expertise in the scientific fields which he states explicitly in the encyclical. He says, “On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she (the Church) knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views” (61).
- Science and religion – While religion and science are misunderstood and misinterpreted to be opposed to one another, Pope Francis (like one of his saintly predecessors, St. John Paul II, who wrote the encyclical, Fides et Ratio – Faith and Reason, back in 1998) sees them as complementary of one another. He states: “Science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both” (62).
- Preservation – “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes” (92). “The world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next” “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? (159-160).
- Practical – “Boycotting certain products” (206), “cultivating sound virtues, regularly using less heat and wearing warmer clothes, educating oneself, avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, cooking only what can be reasonably consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights and reusing something instead of immediately discarding it” are practical ways we can conserve energy and resources (211).
- An ancient lesson is that “less is more.” “Be happy with little. Appreciate the small things, be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack” (222).
- “Those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer” (223).
- “We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full” (226).
- “Discover God in all things” (233).
How long is it? Though it would be very hard to read the letter all in one sitting, unless you were an incredible speed reader, it would be best to read it in chunks which makes it a bit more digestible. I printed off a double-sided version that yielded 65 pages in length plus 10 pages of citations which totaled 75 pages. The word count was in the neighborhood of 40,000 words.
Set a goal: Set a goal to read this long but very dense and insightful letter. Try breaking down the 246 points into reading 10 points per day. If you do that, you will have it read in less than a month. Another option is to attempt to read 10 minutes of it per day before you go to bed. If you don’t have the internet and would like a copy of the letter in book form, the encyclical will be available for sale from publishers starting next month. Stay tuned to this parish bulletin for further notice.
Conclusion: In conclusion, the pope gives us the assurance of hope that God has not left us. “In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He 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” (245). May we repent of our sinful misuse of the earth’s resources and also work with our fellow brothers and sisters on this planet as well as with Mother Nature to move forward and achieve our end in God. Amen.
What are your thoughts? Let me know what you think of the encyclical, the parts that you have read so far, or your thoughts about this article at moc.l1498534242iamg@1498534242nalla1498534242ffejr1498534242f1498534242.
In The Spirit of Responsible Stewardship for God’s Gift of Creation,
Fr. Jeff Allan