Laudato Si’ are two lyrical Italian words that evoke a world of meaning and personal responsibility. “Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home” is Pope Francis’ second encyclical letter. Translated in English either as “Be Praised” or “Praised Be,” the title is a quotation from a popular prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi praising God for all creation, including “Sister Mother Earth” itself.
Last summer, even before the encyclical was published, there was ample speculation – from scientists, environmentalists and politicians – about the “hardline” stance the encyclical supposedly would take on the topic of global warming and climate change. “Laudato Si’,” however, proved to be more of a social encyclical than an environmental one. Just as his predecessor Pope Saint John Paul II had advocated “integral human development” in the face of today’s social evils, now Pope Francis calls for an “integral ecology” that addresses today’s environmental issues in the larger context of economic, social, cultural and moral questions. Although global warming is clearly a focus, our Holy Father is not trying to write a scientific exposition. Rather, he’s talking about the responsibility we all have to be good stewards of creation, of which we ourselves are a part. And while that does not exclude scientific questions related to global warming, it is not Pope Francis’ principle intention, nor could it be, since he is a teacher of the faith, not science.
Care of our common home, the earth, is a profoundly religious duty, as we see “in the beginning” in the Book of Genesis. The world is entrusted to human stewardship by God himself, and this stewardship has a moral and ethical dimension, as all stewardship does. One thing is fundamental in the Bible: the world belongs to God, not to us. Indeed, we ourselves belong to God! Created realities, writes Pope Francis, are not free of ownership: “For they are yours, O Lord, who love the living” (Wis. 11:26).
Genesis also teaches that the human person exists in three fundamental and closely interconnected relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with material creation, as well. We are intrinsically linked to each other and to all God’s creatures by unseen bonds that constitute a universal and invisible web of relationships. This should fill us with a sense of responsibility for the common good. (“Laudato Si’,” 67). We must acknowledge that the “common good” extends to future generations; our present actions affect those who come after us.
These relationships are broken by the sin of “presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations,” writes Pope Francis (66). “Playing God” over human life has led to great sins against “human ecology,” including the life and dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.
Moreover, our increasing manipulative power over nature has objectified it in our eyes so that it is not treated with reverence. As a result, “our common home is falling into serious disrepair … and we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point” (61). What the pope decries as our “throw-away culture” has bloated landfills with indestructible plastic. We human beings are causing these degradations, and many others, too.
The church continues to preach “in season and out of season” respect for the “ecology” of the human person from conception until natural death. She has a long and rich body of social teaching that can be applied to the pressing economic, social, cultural and moral questions of our day. And now, reading “the signs of the times,” Pope Francis has prophetically drawn our attention to the obligation we have from God to be good stewards of our planet.
In our daily routines, we can improve our choices and change our behaviors, whether it be by curtailing compulsive consumerism, recycling, turning off unneeded lights, reducing plastic and paper use, carpooling, separating refuse, showing care for other living creatures or taking any other number of socially conscious actions that reflect good stewardship and respect for what God has created.
In the words of Pope Francis, “We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (212).
There are annual secular observances of Earth Day, but if we take “Laudato Si’” and the social teachings of the church to heart, then every day is an “earth day” inasmuch as every day carries with it the duty to cultivate and tend what belongs to God and is entrusted to our stewardship.
Inspired by “Laudato Si’,” the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry is committed to educating and engaging people in environmental issues within the larger context of the church’s economic, social, cultural and moral teachings, and to providing them with opportunities to reflect and act upon the duty we have to care for all creation.
To learn more about its Social Justice Conference, “Rooted in Faith, Caring for Our Common Home,” to be held this June, go to http://www.catholicsocialjustice.org/social-justice-conference.html.
The office also recommends the use of Creation at the Crossroad, a small-group, faith-sharing resource created with RENEW International, GreenFaith, and the Catholic Climate Covenant. See www.renewintl.org/renewearth.
This 12-session resource enables parishes, campuses, religious communities and all people concerned with caring for God’s creation to engage themselves, their members and invited guests in small-group or personal reflection on Pope Francis’ encyclical.
– Most Rev. Leonard P. Blair