Sunday, June 5, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #41... Change is a comin'

Yippee! We've reached the last chapter of Pope Francis's letter to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. Flipping through its pages, I see plenty of highlighted sections, exclamation points in the margins, and words that I bolded and enlarged in red type. You should see my copy of the document (I copied it from the webpage and changed its fonts so I could read it more easily -- my eyes aren't what they used to be!) -- my 88-page constant companion has gotten a little dog-eared these last 10 months or so.

This week, we're looking at the first section of Chapter Six, Ecological Education and Spirituality, paragraphs 202-208. You can access them by clicking here and scrolling down.

The first thing in Chapter Six to be  highlighted, starred and brought to a red 18 pt font are the words in the first sentence of paragraph 202: "it is we human beings above all who need to change." Yes, dear brother Pope, humanity has traded its awareness of all that God has given us to share for the market-induced forgetfulness found in owning through consumerism, but if we work together to reawaken our common responsibility for our planet and one another, renewal is possible. Change is a comin'. But you are right, it will be a "great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge"!

Right at the beginning of paragraph 203 the Pope and his encyclical writing team remind us that we need to pull ourselves out of the "whirlwind of needless buying and spending." So often we buy more than what's required, forgetting that if we want the earth to supply the needs of all, we shouldn't take more than our fair share. Consumer culture's brainwashing demands that we always buy more.

If there's one thing I've appreciated about reading this encyclical's footnotes, it's all the other thinkers to whom I've been introduced. Romano Guardini is mentioned in this paragraph -- a Catholic theologian who realized that with mass production would come a mindset disposed toward mass consumption. Of course, at this point in time, our identity can no longer rest in our ability to consume. Our sister, Mother Earth, calls us to choose a different way. "We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends..." the Pope tells us, because we have allowed our possessions to become a substitute for a deeper way of living.

But when I look around, I see that we're getting a bit tired of the clutter in our lives, and the lack of depth. Change is a comin'.

Paragraph 204 names a lot of the things that scare me when it comes to the North American dream of The Good Life: self-centredness, greed, empty hearts leading to overconsumption, an ignorance of reality's limits, forgetfulness of the common good, and the exaltation of personal need over social norms. As the Pope notes, global climate instability (which is now causing flooding in Europe as well as forest fires in drought plagued areas like Fort Mac) isn't the only problem -- our obsession with possessions when there are so many poor people on the planet "can only lead to violence and mutual destruction." And it is... you can bet there wouldn't be so many ISIS fighters if they all had the comfortable standard of living we do.

But before Laudato Si gets too alarmist, we are reminded that human beings can find a better way "despite our mental and social conditioning." In paragraph 205, the Pope tells us that
We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on paths of authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.
(I think Pope Francis could have left an exclamation mark at the end of that paragraph!)

Just think what would happen if every human being on the planet claimed our dignity as a child of God rather than believing ads that tell us we are what we wear, how we look, what we drive, and so on -- if we all really believed that our value comes more from the love we bear for each other than the money we have or don't have in the bank. I have come to love Pope Francis because so much of what he says and does is meant to remind people of their true dignity and the depths of God's love for them. He's on the right track, but not everyone is travelling with him -- yet. But change is a comin'.

Student boycott
Image from People and Planet
Change can happen, says paragraph 206, especially if we take seriously our power and responsibility as consumers. Do you remember the 2009 boycott against Fruit of the Loom? People in the US, Canada and Britain stopped buying clothing produced by the clothing giant and made a pretty big fuss until it rehired 1200 Honduran workers it had laid off simply because they wanted fair working conditions. It's just one example of how, when enough people wake up to injustice, they can work together to turn things around.

I have been boycotting Walmart for years. The corporation moved into my local shopping mall around 1994... and before long, all the little stores in the mall went out of business because they couldn't compete with the mega-chain's bargain basement prices (that come from unjust business practices toward workers in the developing world). I could go on and on about the injustices of Walmart, but it's all well-documented, even on YouTube.

If you've seen the documentary above, you already understand what Pope Benedict said in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: "Purchasing is always a moral - and not simply economic - act" (paragraph 66). Maybe you'd like to join me in my boycott? And share it with other people in your life? Change is a comin'.

Remember last week when I was wondering if there was a charter that could bring faith and science together to save our planet? Well, it turns out that there was something slightly different -- an Earth Charter -- written around the turn of the millennium, and it has a pretty cool website that you can access by clicking here. Paragraph 207 of Laudato Si quotes the Earth Charter's call to humanity to turn the page on our past destructive ways: "As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning... Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life."

It has been almost 16 years since the Earth Charter called us to "seek a new beginning" -- and some of us listened, but many still haven't heard. Paragraph 208 is Pope Francis' own little Earth Charter, calling us in a slightly different way:
Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.
In the week ahead, what is one thing that we can do to overcome individualism? It's so easy to be caught up in our own little lives, but if we want to change the world, we need to step out of ourselves, extend some hospitality, and build community... perhaps by inviting a colleague for coffee? Sharing some baking? Offering to mow an elderly neighbour's lawn? Anything that brings us together and helps us to see beyond our own walls to the greater good that is around us all the time...

On my birthday two weeks ago I took a small step to overcome my own individualism. I had invited my usual family and friends over for a little pizza party and birthday cake when I got a surprise email from a friend I hadn't heard from in ages. I didn't even know she knew it was my birthday. Somehow, I was prompted (maybe by the Holy Spirit who breaks down individualism) to invite her to join the party and widen the circle. She came -- and was the last to leave, and a good time was had by all.

Not sure what I'll do this week to overcome individualism, but I'll let you know next week. How about you? What will you do? Change is a comin' -- and it starts with us.

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: New habits that stick

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