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Paragraphs 13-16 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (the full text of which can be accessed by clicking here) are Francis' call to everyone on earth to recognize "the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face." Indeed, it's no small thing to slow climate change, clean the oceans, or regrow a rain forest. In fact, it's going to require us all to get involved.
In late 2006, my own uneasiness about the direction our planet was headed pushed me to attend a weekend retreat on Simplicity and Non-violence, led by Mark A. Burch, an author, educator and group facilitator of courses on Voluntary Simplicity. During the retreat, we spent a lot of time discussing the violence that is found beyond domestic abuse, anarchy, or warfare -- the violence that comes from our lives as consumers.
I already knew that species were facing extinction, people were starving, glaciers were melting, and our planet was in trouble, but the retreat made it clear that things were worse than I realized and that my own lifestyle was a contributing factor. My eyes were opened to the injustice and violence that is built into the consumer culture within which my society exists.
For example, I had no idea that my morning coffee was being produced by a large corporation that employed poor farming practices (violence to the soil) including the use of toxic chemical pesticides (violence to air, water, and small beings) and that said corporation kept its workers living below the poverty line (violence to human beings). And that was only one example. By the end of the second day of the retreat, I felt as though I was carrying twin bowling balls of guilt and worry in my lungs.
Wise woman and activist Vandana Shiva says, "Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence." Now there's something to think about. Over-consumption is pretty much built into our way of life in North America and pits us against the well-being of our sister, Mother Earth.
When I told Mark about the bowling balls in my lungs, he explained that the way to get rid of them was to do the right things -- to become more aware of the impacts my life is having on the earth and all its inhabitants, and to become mindful of the ways a change in my behaviour can make a difference. I can buy fair trade coffee, or give up coffee altogether and drink mint tea that is grown in my own garden. In other words, I can live simply, so that others can simply live. I can opt out of consumerism, and opt into care for the planet and its creatures. Of course, this can mean sacrificing personal comfort and convenience for the good of all, but the common good has to be the bottom line of every choice I make in my life.
And this is what Pope Francis is calling us to in these last few paragraphs of the introduction and the rest of his letter. He sees that our young people "wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded." And he calls EVERYONE (not just papal encyclical readers) to join in dialogue and action because we all rely on the earth's environment, and we are all part of the problem -- and its solution.
Francis' appeal to us is clear: "Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. (my emphasis) ... All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents."
It reminds me of how my friend Mark shared with retreat participants his understanding of the purpose of life. The bumper sticker adage, "He who has the most toys, wins" is about as far off the mark as the Sun is from Neptune. Rather, the purpose of life, its true meaning, is found where a person's passion and her or his abilities intersect with the needs of the world. Such meaning is rooted in unselfishness rather than personal ego trips. And it is this that Pope Francis is calling us toward with Laudato Si. The ecological and social challenges of our planet can seem overwhelming, but if we all work together out of love for our common home and each other, there is hope.
Next week, we'll be getting into the nitty gritty of chapter one. In the meantime, a few questions to ponder:
Where am I in denial about how my living standards affect creation/my brothers and sisters across the globe?
How can I face up to my part in my planet's ecological and social struggles rather than living in resignation or indifference?
In what ways am I willing to sacrifice my comfort and convenience if it helps the earth and all its inhabitants?
What is one small thing I can do to make a difference today?
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.
(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
Next up: #5... What's under the carpet?