Sunday, October 11, 2015

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection #12... Gratitude, not greed

This weekend is Thanksgiving (in Canada), and it strikes me once again that our global climate crises all stem from the fact that human beings have forgotten how to appreciate and be thankful for the many, many blessings we receive from God, who created our sister, Mother Earth. Unfortunately, in our forgetfulness, we act as though we are the masters of the universe, and imagine that we are entitled to more than our earth can logically provide to each person on the planet. Most of earth's ills can be traced back to greed...

This week's reading of paragraphs 60-64 of Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home (click here to access it) is a wrap up of Chapter One, What is Happening to Our Common Home, and a brief introduction to Chapter Two, The Gospel of Creation.

Paragraph 60 points out two extremes of opinions regarding how to deal with the ecological problems our earth is facing, one being the myth that progress and technology will solve all our problems, and the other the idea that human presence, impact and intervention on earth needs to end. Of course, the answers lie somewhere in between. The trick to living well is always finding the right balance, the place of sufficiency rather than too much or too little.

Now that we've made it through Chapter One, we can see the many ways that "our common home is falling into serious disrepair" (paragraph 61) and some may wonder why the Church thinks it has anything to say about these matters. Looking at all these ecological and social problems, Pope Francis explains that perhaps it is necessary to call out to a faith community that understands the importance of hope in finding the way out, redirecting our steps, and solving our problems before we reach the breaking point.

Clearly, our present way of life is unsustainable because human beings have substituted the artificial goals of our markets and consumerism for our true values of relationship and community. 'Having more' has often been mistaken for 'being more,' but if we want to live well on our finite planet, a return to our true values is critically important. If I'm reading the world correctly, more and more of us are attempting to simplify our lifestyles in an attempt to slow "the rapid pace of change and degradation" simply because the breaking point is a scary place to live!

I was hoping, when I read the title of Chapter Two, The Gospel of Creation, that there would be a little explanation of the word 'gospel.' Many people don't realize that it simply means, 'good news.' I think this is significant, because in paragraph 62, the idea that "science and religion can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both" is mentioned. Science's logical approach when combined with religion's faith-based hope in good news has more of an opportunity to 'make things right' than either could alone. It's kind of like my own relationship with my husband. He's the engineer, the scientist, the logician who works with his head, and I am the elementary school teacher, the facilitator, dealing in gut practicalities. Together, we're an excellent team, if I do say so myself, because we bring different gifts and talents to bear on our marriage's challenges. Likewise, science and religion can find balanced solutions to earth's problems by working together, science's thought processes with religion's belief in the good.

Pope Francis is insistent when he says that we need more than one way of looking at the complexities of our ecological crises -- "no branch of sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it. The Catholic Church is open to dialogue with philosophical thought; this has enabled her to produce various syntheses between faith and reason. The development of the Church's social teaching represents such a synthesis with regard to social issues; this teaching is called to be enriched by taking up new challenges" (paragraph 63).

Huh? The Church's social teaching? If you're like me, you may or may not have heard about it, and could use a little more explanation, so I looked it up. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has a wonderful webpage that lists ten principles of Church social teaching and gives examples of how they are being applied. Take a few moments to check them out -- they have so much to say about how our world should and could work.

My one wish in regard to the principles is that the Church had worded them a little differently, so that every one of them would be applicable not only to human life, but also to the life of all God's creatures, all of creation. Where possible, our focus on humanity's needs should not preclude the lives of other living beings in God's creation, but sometimes, the way we talk, it's as though human life is far more important than any other life on our planet -- and the reality is that we are only one part of a huge web of life that is dependent on creatures living together in harmony. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as the most important beings on earth and give some thought to the possibility that God might love the whales or the lady bugs just as much as God loves me. We don't really know, do we?

Faith is supposed to shed light in dark places (remember my one little candle from a few weeks ago?), and Laudato Si reminds us that faith convictions can offer Christians and other believers "ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of [our] brothers and sisters" (paragraph 64). In his message for the 1990 Day of World Peace, St. Pope John Paul II spoke of how Christians "realize that [our] responsibility within creation, and [our] duty toward nature and the Creator are an essential part of [our] faith." When our faith moves us to act responsibly, there is always hope.

And when we remember that all of creation is a gift into which we have been born, there is always gratitude, which prevents us from taking things for granted. Perhaps that's the thing to hold onto this Canadian Thanksgiving, and to remember to celebrate gratefully, without overdoing it. I suspect that the best way to show our thanks to God for all our blessings is to use them wisely, and too much turkey is never wise (especially for turkeys!) The value in our celebration is not in our table decorations or fancy desserts -- it's in our appreciation of the flavours and the friendships that bring us enjoyment.

For what are you most thankful this Thanksgiving? And what's one thing you can do to show that gratitude to our hurting world?

I know I've posted the video below more than once, but to me, it's a gorgeous reminder of our many blessings. Have a blessed, greed-free, grateful Thanksgiving!

A prayer for our earth

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: #13... We are not God(!)