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Dec. 3, 2015                Clandonald – the Axe farm

A reflection on Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si”

Opening Prayer.

Pope Francis writes of “an urgent challenge to protect our common home…to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”(13)

This plea and request from “Laudato Si” is a fair statement of the ‘why’ or reason for the encyclical which is also expressed in its very title, “On Care for our Common Home”.

However, as a young student Jesuit after reading the encyclical, said, “It’s is all about relationships”!

And indeed, in the introductory section of the document, Pope Francis, like St Francis of Assisi, calls the earth our “common home” which is like sister and our mother. When we harm the environment we also harm we damage this familial relationship. But also, with this we are damaging our relationship with other people, especially those least able to defend themselves: the poor and those not born yet.

And Pope Francis makes it clear that given the universal nature of our common home, his encyclical is not addressed only to Catholics but is intended to be a vehicle to “enter into dialogue with all people who are united by the same concern”. (3, 7)

But before getting more into the Pope’s text, I want to say something about those “relationships” which the young Jesuit mentioned.

It goes like this:

- you remember when you were told how to prepare for your ‘examination of conscience’ before going to confession (well, at least the more senior of you may recall that!). Anyway, I recall being told to examine the 3 basic areas of relationships where I might have sinned and they were: in relation to God, to other people and finally to myself. And that order, God, other people and finally myself was important.

Important because, according to our Biblical or Gospel view, in order of importance, first comes my relationship with God, then that with others and thirdly with myself.

And this order or hierarchy of being, is what is implicit behind the whole teaching of “Laudato Si”. Although it is not stated explicitly, the order of importance for our life long relationships is namely that: first God then other people and thirdly myself.

We can, I am sure, all recall words of our Lord Jesus which say this. His answer about which is the greatest of the commandments, famously starts with the love of God first and then love of neighbour and then he adds that they go together (and the rest of his Gospel shows that they cannot be separated.)

But in our world, it is an understatement to observe that this Biblical order or hierarchy of relationships is not very evident or popular. Rather, we find “me” first, then others second and God, if he is acknowledged at all, is third or last.

And precisely, because our popular culture does not know or ignores God, our relationship with not only other people but also with ourselves and with the environment is broken or fractured.

But coming now, back to the Pope’s encyclical; after a long introduction, he divides it into 6 chapters, each examining different aspects of the breakdown or rupture between people and creation and the prospects for healing these relationships.

The 1st chapter, “What is happening to our common home”, looks at the various symptoms of environmental degradation. The impacts of climate change are considered alongside issue of loss of freshwater and biodiversity. There is no in-depth discussion of the science of global warming; instead, it simply points to the overwhelming consensus concerning the negative impact of carbon-intensive economies on the natural world and human life. And he says, “Caring for our ecosystems demands farsightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profits is truly interested in their preservation.” (36)

The 2nd chapter, “The Gospel of Creation”, considers the world the way God intended it. The chapter surveys the rich Biblical traditions to show that there is no scriptural justification for a “tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”(68) Also, there is no room for misanthropic or selfish versions of environmentalism because reverence for nature is only authentic if we have compassion for our fellow human beings. For example, someone who is truly concerned about the trafficking of endangered species is automatically concerned about the trafficking of people.

The 3rd chapter, “The Human Roots of the Ecological crisis”, examines the two connected notions of what he calls, the “technocratic paradigm” (science will fix it) and a “modern anthropocentrism” (if it’s comfortable or good for us, then it’s ok). Such a view point sees nature as not having any spiritual or transcendental value. These notions have led to the erroneous idea that the earth’s resources are infinite and that economic growth and technology can solve global hunger and poverty. The Pope says, that in reality, such a purely materialistic viewpoint has not only resulted in disregard for the environment, but also undermined the worth of human life, especially those lives viewed as having little or no utility – human embryos, the poor or people with disabilities.

In the 4th chapter, “Integral Ecology”, the encyclical charts the path to recapture an awareness of the interconnectedness of creation. For example he states, “An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics.” (156) He bluntly says that human selfishness is a big problem, “Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism and many problems of society are connected to today’s self-centered culture of instant gratification.” (162)The experience of indigenous peoples is specially referenced in this regard.

The 5th chapter, “Lines of Approach and Action”, points to the various international collective actions needed. It highlights the need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable ones, with the use of government subsidies where appropriate. It identifies the need for international agreements and legislation not only in relation to climate change but also biodiversity and the oceans. He criticises carbon credits as “an expedient which permits maintaining the excessive consumerism of some countries and sectors.” (171)

The 6th and final chapter, “Ecological Education and Spirituality”, shifts the attention to the individual believer, families and communities and invites us to make a difference in small but tangible ways. Consumer choices, the cultivation of ecological virtues such as reducing wastefulness and environmental education for the young are explained as practical steps leading to a deeper spiritual “ecological conversion”.

And this ecological conversion is to be one where “the effects of our encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in our relationship with the world around us.” (217)

He concludes his exhortation by evoking the Holy Trinity and relationships between creatures. He says, “For Christians, believing in one God who is Trinitarian communion, suggests that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation.” (239) And therefore, each of us is also called to live a Trinitarian dynamism by going out of ourselves, “to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures.” (240)

Now, before sharing with you the latest word from the Canadian bishops on the subject, “Create a Climate of Change”, I want to return to that idea of ‘relationships’.

I want to connect it or situate it within Catholic Theology.

It goes like this:

Our Catholic faith recognizes the reality of a sacred order in God (the triune communion of three equal, noninterchangeable, mutually dependent Relations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and also a sacred order in creation that reflects God (the marital ordering of Adam and Eve as equal, noninterchangeable, mutually dependent relations of husband and wife) but also a sacred order that links God and humanity in Christ.

This order or link in Christ is achieved in the incarnation of God and man in Jesus Christ which then extends in and through the Church(as Bride of Christ) to all of humanity.

Within the Church also there is an ordained order or hierarchy of service which is a manifestation among many, of the hierarchical or ordered character of God himself and of God’s mystery or plan, which (quoting from scripture) was formulated before creation and set forth in Jesus Christ, to unite all things in heaven and on earth to himself (Eph 1:9-10).

Many people in our so-called first world oppose the notion of hierarchy or order in the name of equality!

But hierarchy or order as such in itself has nothing to do with either equality or inequality.

The opposite of order or hierarchy is not equality; the opposite of order or hierarchy is disorder or the absence of order and or even identity.

The Bible speaks of sin as the “mystery of lawlessness” or of Satan as the ‘lawless one” (2 Tim 2, 7-8).

And so to oppose or reject order (or hierarchy) on principle, is to oppose or reject not just creation but God also.

But Jesus Christ’s obedience to his Father –which is the ‘sacred origin’ of all things, including in a sense, the divine order of the trinity – is the foundation upon which the sacred order of the “new creation” is made possible.

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Dear brothers and sisters of St. Paul diocese and beyond,

May this Christmas season bring us all closer to our Emmanuel, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the hope of the peoples.  May he be the Wisdom that teaches and guides us so that our gestures and gatherings to celebrate his birth, also are signs of his mercy and saving love among us.  May that mercy and love be with us and our families through the Christmas season and in the New Year.
† Bishop Paul Terrio

N.B.   
The Pastoral Center will be closed from Thursday, December 24, 2015 to Sunday, January 3, 2016 inclusively.