Laudato Si': Clarion Call to Care for Creation
by Sister Lucy Slinger,
FSPA ecological advocate
Pope Francis’ encyclical, released in 2015, was welcomed with joy by many and has caused anxiety for some. We asked FSPA and affiliates to submit questions they have about Laudato Si’. And throughout this article I hope to do justice to these insightful questions and demonstrate the change potential Laudato Si’ invites.
How do we stem declining biodiversity, deteriorating environment and social degradation when the consensually generated, 15-year-old Earth Charter hasn’t generated a change of heart?
A change of heart happens when a person is significantly emotionally impacted to reprioritize and change held attitudes, values and beliefs. Psychologists tell us that all our actions emanate consciously or subconsciously from our held dispositions. Dispositions are key components of theology and philosophy. They define the buy-in level of seeing others and Earth relationships as moral imperatives that demand action. Pope Francis presents human nature as rooted in a desire for goodness and part of nature and creation. Humans are not above or apart from the rest of nature and creation but fully embedded in and dependent on it. God has given all as gift and each species has unique talents to contribute toward all becoming one. Humans are gifted with intellect and free will. They are the only species with the ability to override instinctual behaviors and decide to act contrary to the common good. In his encyclical, Pope Francis points to many ways human actions have resulted in the social and ecological inequities of today (Chapter 3) and begins to define ways of change (Chapter 4).
What should be the base for defining what we deem as progress?
Pope Francis says that not everything new or changed is good and that we need to redefine how we use our “technical muscle-power of today.” Is it not as radical and counter-cultural as the humility St. Francis demonstrated to call for redefining progress as “that which enhances the quality of life” for all, especially the poor and voiceless aspects of creation? What if business decisions were made based on what enhances nature and the lives of humans living in poverty vs. profit? Such a proposition demands a change in worldview held by those in power with the financial resources to affect change.
Pope Francis identifies Jesus Christ and St. Francis of Assisi as excellent witnesses to a culture-altering way of living in right relationships with self, others, Earth, universe and the Divine. He refers to this as integral ecology. Can you tell us more?
The ideals of integral ecology capsulated in this encyclical, but presented in detail by Russell Butkus and Steven Kolmes in their book Environmental Science and Theology in Dialogue, are given as an invitation to think in new ways and live out of an ecological conversion of heart. Integral ecology asks what exactly is so essential it cannot be excluded or deemed an externality for the harmonious intricate interconnections of nature to be sustaining across time? When we look to nature without human impact, we see there is a naturally created order that demonstrates a harmonious long-range, sustainable give and take. Innately, our fundamental nature is generous, loving, democratic and collaborative. It is neither greedy nor competitive. Integral ecology adds spirituality and ethics as essential new components to the decision-making process. In fact, the most essential component for sustainability of all species, especially humans, is what the pope calls ecological virtue.
What does Laudato Si’ say about living in communion and the eucharistic presence that all Christians are called to witness? To the vow to live in caring right relationships today?
The pope’s clarion call is to individually and collectively undergo ecological conversion which is exemplified in relationships. We must pray. And our prayer is not confined to a chapel. Indeed, he draws upon the work of Teilhard de Chardin explaining how every eucharistic celebration is on “the altar of the world.” Our perpetual adoration—returning of praise to God for all, by all and in all—is done in and through the world in every moment. Who we are and how we act must speak of equity, integrity and the intricate interconnectedness of all that has been, is and will be. Pope Francis tells us that every small act we make on behalf of sustainability is an act of this love manifested in reality today.
What does Laudato Si’ call each of us to do and to be? To change?
The pope asks us to stop and take a good long reflective look at how our actions contribute to a future of human reorientation to living in harmony with the natural capital one Earth provides. We are responsible for our use of free will with all the talents and creativity we possess to redefine progress, adopt a new holistic integral ecology, and model how eucharistic presence via perpetual adoration, which is seen today in many cultures as counter-cultural, will authentically bring about the shift to being the dominant culture of the day. It is a moral imperative; a clarion call to intimately care about people and the planet.
What can I do today?
Read Laudato Si’ and reflect on its significance. Then, dialogue with everyone who has a share in our common home. If we want to follow key ideas presented in the encyclical to avoid reaching a tipping point that drastically alters the human way of life, then: reexamine your own held beliefs, attitudes and ideals about who you are in relation to the rest of creation; practice eucharistic presence, indeed perpetual adoration, in all the moments of the day by knowing that each small step toward more sustainable lifestyles is an act of love;make decisions based on long-range impact on the quality of life for all, especially the voiceless creatures and impoverished of today; recognize that every day small acts of courage are the way that human culture changes; and
allow your heart to experience a change, an ecological conversion, that is as inclusive of all as Pope Francis’ encyclical.
Sister Lucy’s Reaction
I eagerly admit that I was deeply, emotionally moved when reading Laudato Si’; I have watched others cry for joy and sorrow over the significance of what they have read, and recognize that it has brought forth many commentaries from theologians, scientists, philosophers, and yes, even environmentalists. I was moved by the depth and breadth of coverage of the realities of today, of biblical and earlier church statements used in the presented arguments that resemble St. Francis’ style of writing the Franciscan rule. The examples given for change are clear, focused, readily implemented and invite everyone, not just Catholics, to get serious about the need to care for all of creation.