Sunday, August 2, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday reflection #2... Turn that ship around!

Some of the fruits of Mother Earth, grown in our garden.
Il Cantico del Sole (The Canticle of the Sun), written by St. Francis of Assisi, has always been my favourite prayer poem. I kept a copy of the Italian version above my desk during my university years, well before I ever set foot in St. Francis' homeland, where I fell in love with all things Italian.

I'm guessing Pope Francis and friends love the Canticle too, because the newest encyclical takes its name from the Canticle's verse about our sister, Mother Earth:

Laudato si mi signore per sora nostra matre terra. la quale ne sustenta et gouerna. et produce diuersi fructi con coloriti fiore et herba.

It translates, "Praise be to you, God, for our sister, mother earth, who sustains and governs us, and produces different fruits with coloured flowers and herbs." And of course, our life on our sister, mother earth, is the whole point of  the encyclical, which can be accessed by clicking here. Today I'll be looking at sections 1-6, and offering my own summary/reflections about them.

Pope Francis reminds us that "our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us", but it's pretty clear that we haven't been treating the earth as lovingly as we would treat such close family members. Rather, we've failed to respect Mother Earth, allowing her air, soil, and water (though we depend on those same elements!) to become polluted to the point that she "is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she "groans in travail" (Rom 8:22) (paragraph 2).

Popes have been fretting about our planet for quite some time. Laudato Si tells us that John XXIII wrote a letter about Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris) at the height of the nuclear arms crisis in 1963, and Paul VI spoke to the UN about humanity's exploitation of nature in 1971 (the same year Dr. Seuss published his eco-parable, The Lorax). John Paul II was the first to mention the necessity of an ecological conversion, commenting on it at different times in his papacy, but mostly out of concern for the "human environment" rather than for nature itself, it seems. Of all the popes, it's Benedict XVI who probably spoke the strongest words, urging humanity to see that creation is hurt "where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property, and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves."

It seems that the introduction of Laudato Si is focused on establishing that the Catholic Church has a track record with environmental awareness, but clearly, that awareness has come rather late in the game in many ways. The Church's environmental mystics like Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich and Meister Eckhart, whose words have been with us for centuries, have been too often ignored in favour of great theological minds closer to the papal chair who were counting angels on the heads of pins rather than seeing God in creation. More recently, Creation Spirituality and folks like Matthew Fox were treated as New Ageish and dismissed (or excommunicated).

In fact, so much of the Church's energy over the past 50 years has been spent preaching about morality, sexuality, and preserving the Church and its own traditions that it has nearly missed the boat when it comes to encouraging humanity to "turn the ship around" before reaching the tipping point toward environmental catastrophe. But here is Pope Francis, finally standing up for our sister, Mother Earth, not a moment too soon -- and hopefully, not a moment too late.

If I could sit down and have a chat with the man, I'd encourage him even further -- not only to do whatever he can to bring the world to further awareness of our need for ecological conversion, but also, to change the Church's prayers to reflect environmental and social concerns even more, to pray not only "for our good and the good of all his holy church," but "for the good of all creation." (I change those words every Sunday, pagan Catholic that I am.) Prayers that remind us of creation's beauty and goodness and our role in the world's ecological conversion need to be lived and prayed in our churches, homes and daily lives until they convert the way we think about and treat the gifts of creation all around us, always and all ways...

Which is why I'll end each of these Sunday reflections with A prayer for our earth, taken from the end of Laudato Si:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #3... Becoming ecology-minded

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