I have been reading the encyclical on climate change issued by Pope Francis. When it came out, it received a great deal of press. Long-term, it will be interesting to see what effect it may have on human thinking and action with respect to the impending crisis, as some scientists portray it. As one who is trying to walk a spiritual path, I am pleased that the Pope has spoken out.
I know the science community is duly concerned about what has happened to our world and what will happen if humanity does not change its ways. I am also less than confident humans have the fortitude to do anything differently. At least, I am not sure we will do anything differently until more of us are convinced there really is a crisis. And yet, most of us would agree waiting until you are in a crisis is not a very smart way to go.
I am trying to follow both the thought process and the rationale of the Pope’s message. I am going to take a few occasions in these inspirational reflections to unpack and present the key features as I see them. My hope is this will help me and you think more critically and spiritually about our home---the world. Indeed, this is how the papal document begins.
The title for the entire encyclical is taken from Saint Francis’ famous poem, Canticle of the Sun. Saint Francis is probably the most-loved saint of all. He certainly is my favorite. And no doubt, he is on the side of nature and taking care of our world. So it is no wonder Pope Francis chooses Saint Francis as a starting point. The encyclical begins with these words: “Laudato Sì, mì Signore---“Praise be to you, my Lord.”
This beginning with praise language reminds me of the creation stories in Genesis. In those two accounts God created things and it was declared to be “good.” The Christian tradition proclaims that our world is a product of God’s creative hand and it is naturally good. I appreciate this perspective and want all of us to operate from this perspective. In effect, it says that our world is a gift and we need to be careful of this gift we receive. Humans are not to pollute, squander or waste this precious gift. That is the Pope’s new appeal.
In the next words after the beginning Pope Francis clearly locates his work in the previous writing of Saint Francis. Pope Francis says, “In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” Clearly, the Pope is employing some powerful metaphors to describe our world; our world is like our sister and our mother.
Most normal people would do nothing to hurt their sister or their mother. So is the appeal of Pope Francis. After his brief introductory section, it is to this potential harm humans are doing the Pope moves. In the second section he says, “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” This statement can and should be read as an indictment. An indictment judges, but it is, I would argue, a fair judgment. Let’s unpack this to see how the Pope is thinking.
Essentially, the Pope says that we are responsible. We have done something wrong and we are responsible. I would agree, but I am sure there are a whole host of people who will become defensive and disagree or even get mad at the Pope. What does he know, they will ask? The Pope knows and trusts the findings of the majority of scientists who are very confident our earth---our sister and mother---are in trouble. And he is convinced, as are the scientists, that much of the problem we have caused.
The Pope is clear. We have been irresponsible. The Genesis creation stories give humanity a key role in the world. We are to be responsible. But we chose sin and to choose sin is to choose irresponsibility. That is why so many of us will be defensive and shout, “No, not true!” In effect, we want to be able to do anything we want to do and not be responsible for the consequences.
The sad part is I am old enough I can probably get away with doing whatever I want and I will not have to pay any price. If I am putting the world through hell, the process is slow enough I will make it out of the world without any personal cost. But what about my kids and my grandkids? My youngest grandkids quite probably will live to the year 2100! That is long enough to see humanity get in trouble! Do I care enough about my grandkids and all the other eight or nine billion people who will be in the world to do anything about it?
That is the real question. If I am absolutely honest, I don’t know how much I will change. Will it take a crisis for me to change? If I think it will take a crisis for others to change, why would I think I am any different or better? I am confident the Pope is correct. I have been irresponsible. It is time for a little responsibility. I am going to try.