This week we are looking at paragraphs 159-163 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis' letter to the people of the earth, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down. The section is called Justice Between the Generations, and it's not just referring to those of us alive at this moment.
"The notion of the common good also extends to future generations," says the Pope, reminding us that
Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us (paragraph 159).There are many big questions raised by Laudato Si, but for me, the one at the beginning of paragraph 160 is the biggest: "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us...?" Pope Francis notes that this question is tied in to other questions about the meaning of life and why we are here, the goal of our efforts and our value to the earth itself -- questions whose answers speak volumes about our dignity as God's children.
Paragraph 161 deserves to be read in its entirety:
Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet's capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.Laudato Si doesn't mince words in paragraph 162. Our present consumer culture has bred a society of people who are speeding up the earth's decline through our "rampant individualism" and "today's self-centred culture of instant gratification." We need to curb our "impulsive and wasteful consumption" so that we can "broaden the scope of our present interests and... give consideration to those who remain excluded from development" in both "intergenerational" and "intragenerational solidarity" -- the poor of the future, and those we have with us now.
Such solidarity demands a lot from those of us who live in the developed world. We don't want our standard of living to fall, but if we look at our ecological footprint -- the resources required for our lifestyle, we can discover that if everyone on the planet lived like we do, we would probably need another dozen earths to support the present world population. (Check out your ecological footprint by clicking here.) So what we need to do is to re-examine what we see as essential to our standard of living. Is it the stuff with which we surround ourselves? Or our relationships and values? How can we live more simply and meaningfully without consuming so many of our planet's resources?
We are told that Mother Earth has enough for all her children, but the problem is that some children use up more than their share, which impoverishes those who are living in poverty now, and future generations who may not have enough. It also messes up our planet for all living things. How many species will be extinct when my children are my age? Will future generations ever be able to drink from a mountain stream like I did when I was small?
I feel like a broken record, but Laudato Si is the best commercial I know for simple living. Once we build an awareness of where our greed has gotten the better of us, we can begin to live a deeper solidarity with the poor and those future generations who deserve enough, too. We can choose to use only what we need, and ignore the way consumer culture leads us to want too much. We don't have to live the lifestyles of the rich and famous, though consumer culture does its best to convince us that we do just because it wants us to buy, buy, buy.
How do we escape that kind of brainwashing? Perhaps we can ask ourselves the four questions on this poster on a regular basis. If you want a copy of it, I can email it to anyone who sends me a note through the email address that lurks behind my profile on the side bar -- or you can make your own version with your own awareness-raising questions.
We all need enough to live, but we don't need too much, especially when our greed pollutes our planet, impoverishes others, and harms the seven generations that come after us. I don't know about you, but I hate feeling greedy, especially when I know I'm hurting others, present and future, by my choices... and I want to make my ecological footprint smaller for their sake.
Next reflection: Digging ourselves out