I'll say one thing about this encyclical -- its survey of what is happening to our common home feels dark and heavy at times, and maybe that's why I needed a little candle song playing in my head.
This week's section of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home is all about the "decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society." Darkness. But I'm realizing that we human beings seem to learn better from our struggles than our successes. I'm starting to suspect that's why God made us so much less than perfect!
This week's Sunday Reflection is looking at paragraphs 43 to 47, which can be accessed by clicking here. They're a pretty decent summary of what's wrong with human life in general -- as I said, a downer. They point out that we have a right to life and happiness -- but that we've screwed up our chances for both through causing environmental deterioration with our flawed models of development and the throwaway culture that goes with them (paragraph 43).
In skimming through paragraphs 44-47 of this week's reading, I came up with the following litany of modern woes, a sort of slam poetry summary of what Pope Francis is decrying:
Unruly growth, urban chaos, poor transportation,
noise, unhealthy neighbourhoods, visual pollution.
Gated homes, crowded slums, inefficient cities,
cement, asphalt, glass and metal, no access to beauty.
Wasted energy and water, lack of green space,
technology assuming human interaction's place.
Social breakdown, violence, new forms of aggression,
drugs and trafficking, the silent rupture of cohesion.
Digital overload, distraction, loss of identity,
lack of wisdom, deep thought, and loving community.
In an effort to make my slam poem work better, I've left out quite a bit of what the Pope and friends name as contributing to society's breakdown, so I really encourage a reading of paragraphs 43-47.
Now, lest we fall into the "harmful sense of isolation" (paragraph 47) that can arise from an awareness of all this heavy stuff, it might be good to realize that these things have been going on for as long as we've all been alive -- and we have put up with them. What choice do we have?
Ahh, but there's the rub -- we do have choice.
Door Number 1 opens to reveal a certain politician -- "Society is always breaking down, but I'm running for president and my life is excellent, so why rock the boat?"
Door Number 2 opens to reveal me -- "These things are beyond my control, and there's nothing I can do."
Door Number 3 opens to reveal Jesus -- "There's no way that people should have to live with these things. What shall we do to make a difference for them?"
I know that I've been stuck behind Door Number 2 for way too long. It's only when we go through Door Number 3 with Jesus that things start to change. We've been brainwashed by the way things are, asleep in a hopeless dream. But Jesus, who faced down the most hopeless situation of all on the cross, calls us to join him in a new dream.
Standing with Jesus, we can ask ourselves, "Is this really the quality of life we want? How do we want our society to be? What do we need to change? How do we go about changing it?"
And the slam poem changes...
Careful growth through wise planning, good transportation,
birdsong, healthy neighbourhoods, no more pollution.
Inviting homes, empty slums, highly efficient cities,
parks, trees, flowers, and a plenitude of beauty.
Energy and water saved, open growing space,
activism and conversation in our meeting place.
Friendship and happiness, no form of aggression;
sharing what we have is the creation of cohesion.
Wise use of media helps build true identity,
wisdom, deep thought, and loving community.
Sounds like utopia... and unfortunately, we've all been raised to think that utopia isn't real. Of course, it has no hope of becoming real if we don't believe in it or work toward it together.
Jesus believed in utopia. He was always saying, "The reign of God is among you." He knew how we really want to live, and showed us how to go about it -- by loving. He was always building community.
Almost twelve centuries later, St. Francis tried to reintroduce us to Jesus' way of love for the poor and for creation -- and now Pope Francis is at it again, reminding us that we need to love more than just our own lives, families, and friends -- we need to love those on the margins, and everyone and everything else besides. The difference is that in this new millennium, the cry of the earth and the poor means that there's even more urgency to our learning how to live in love for all.
Choosing Door Number 3 means I can ask myself a few questions: How can I live and love like Jesus so as to bring about a higher quality of human life and a healthier society? What is one small thing I can do today? What's the one little candle I can light? How can we all work together to make a difference?
There are people who do make a difference. I'm thinking of volunteers with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the folks providing prayer, lunch and place for the innner city community to gather at Bissell Centre every Sunday, the city planners here in my city who are looking at ways to end homelessness... and maybe there are many among us who are waiting in the wings, looking for support for new ways to turn the litany of modern woes into the reign of God....
If you have any ideas to share, as always, I'd love to hear them. Oftentimes through discussion, change takes shape...
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)
Up next: #10... No indifference allowed