Here's the link to access Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home -- scroll down to paragraphs 216-221 to have a look at this week's chunk of Pope Francis' encyclical, which was given to the world one year ago today. Has it made a difference? I really believe it has helped the cause of our planet even though you don't hear the words Laudato Si dropped very often -- but the media seems to be taking a greater interest in news stories related to the environment, more than pre-Laudato Si. I've listened in on more conversations about environmental issues, and I'm hoping that Pope Francis' work is waking everyone up to the changes we need to make. What do you think? I guess sometimes it helps to have a global figure come down on the side of creation -- I just wish it had happened several papacies ago.
But I'll give Pope Francis full credit for finally taking environmental issues in hand through his letter to the world, and through offering his "suggestions for an ecological spirituality" in paragraph 216 of this section on Ecological Conversion. He reminds us that "the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body of nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us." I know that for too many centuries, churches have focused almost entirely on the eternal salvation of the people in the pews, forgetting that salvation is supposed bring everyone and everything God made into the fullness of God's love. Praying with and for the people in the pews doesn't go far enough -- action is required to help creation toward abundant life, too!
Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team start paragraph 217 by noting something Pope Benedict called attention to in one of his homilies: the external destruction of our environments is increasing in proportion to our own spiritual emptiness, which we try to fill with possessions, I would say, or experiences -- that can't satisfy us spiritually. Jesus talked about this in one of my favourite passages of Matthew's gospel -- chapter 6, verses 25-33. Consider the lilies, he says. Seek first God's reign, he says. And with our hearts focused less on our possessions and more on what is really most important and valuable in our lives (our relationships with one another and creation), we don't have to rely on materialism and waste the earth's resources to fill up our souls with God's goodness. Pope Francis knows this when he says
the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion... whereby the effects of [our] encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in [our] relationship with the world around [us]. Living our vocation to be protectors of God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.In paragraph 218, we revisit the example of St Francis. He was born into a life of wealth and luxury, but his experiences as a prisoner of war and his illness following gave him a lot of time to reflect on his playboy lifestyle and the people living in poverty all around him. He woke up to the emptiness that his status and possessions couldn't alleviate, and his personal conversion brought him into harmony with God and creation. I think sometimes we forget that God can change our hearts, too, and bring us to that same harmony.
|Coral reef bleaching -- image from World Wildlife Fund|
Personal conversion is necessary -- and so is the conversion of all the systems that create pollution, violence and injustice. In paragraph 219 we find that "Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds." Our solitary actions can change the world a little, but communal, world conversion is what will really make a difference. United, we succeed in a hurry; divided, it takes a lot longer... and we are running short of time. Yesterday I read a story about how 90% of the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing coral bleaching because of warming oceans. The corals can rejuvenate, but not if our oceans keep warming.
Our ecological conversion requires "gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God's loving gift and that we are called to quietly imitate [God's] generosity in self-sacrifice and good
works," says paragraph 220. I can't imagine that there's an environmentalist to be found who isn't in awe of nature and the way it works. Gratitude to our Creator springs from that kind of awe, and what follows is an awareness that we have received our world from a Benevolence that asks nothing in return. We are called to be just as generous to all living beings with whom we share our planet.
We must also hold onto the convictions of our faith, including "the awareness that each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light." If our faith helps us to see creation in this way, we also see that "God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore"(paragraph 221).
Yet humanity has unfortunately ignored so much of creation -- at our own peril -- and it's not always easy to get the attention of those people who haven't yet awakened to creation's intricacies, and teach them the kind of self-sacrifice that it will take to save our planet from further destruction. We have started with ourselves, with reading this encyclical, with working on our own ecological conversion. What comes next?
If we go back to paragraph 219, we see that communal conversion is the next step. We need to move out of our comfort zone and call others to join us in our respect for and protection of God's creation. Perhaps we can share our knowledge when it comes to a particular environmental concern. Maybe we can show someone something about nature's intricacy that inspires awe in us. Perhaps we could get involved with an environmental organization that is working to save bees, butterflies, bears, belugas, or any other creatures we care about.
There are so many possibilities. Wikipedia has a page of environmental organizations listed by country and title. There are over 20 just in Canada, and many of them offer free resources to help us become more aware of the issues our planet is facing, information that can be shared with those who are less aware of our sister, Mother Earth and her struggles to support us all. I'm hoping you already have your own favourite ecological causes.
So this week's challenge is to talk up some of the possibilities for environmental education and activism with the people around us. If we can start with one conversation that helps raise a friend's awareness of an environmental issue, it can be like a stone in a pond that ripples out to touch others. And that's where communal conversion -- or environmental revolution -- can begin.
Next up: Simplicity and prayer