“The world is falling apart and Pope Francis decides to write an encyclical about trees?! Catholics care about greater things than making sure that every single intellect-less creature is perfectly pampered! Pope Francis is totes a hippie.”
Okay, let’s be honest. At least some faithful catholics have thought something along those lines about Laudato Si. We all know the media blows Pope Francis out of proportion, but maybe catholics do too a bit. Let’s take a closer look at Laudato Si to see what Pope Francis was trying to get at by choosing such a topic, and what he hopes we can all take away from it.
First of all, the overarching theme of the whole encyclical is care for the environment, but Pope Francis takes a larger sense of the word than usual. The human environment, according to Pope Francis, includes all of the natural world, but also societies, politics, economics, education, really everything that makes up the world we live in. So one could say that Laudato Si isn’t really about trees or the natural world because it’s about everything. But I think that Pope Francis would say that Laudato Si is about everything, and therefore it is all about the natural world. Nature is not something to disregard as unimportant: “When we speak of the ‘environment,’ what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (paragraph 139)
That being said, Pope Francis does an excellent job balancing what we owe to the environment and what we owe to the human community that breathes and lives and works in this world. The key to this balance is, quite simply, opening one’s eyes simultaneously to the beauty and goodness of a creation that reflects God’s own goodness and the beauty of a human person whose existence reflects God’s own image. It’s just looking up, and looking around. Just to name one example of harm to the environment that needs more attention is the waste of water. We can get wrapped-up in our singing performance in the shower and forget that the waste of water affects fish, trees, the poor, future generations, you name it.
The encyclical is a wake-up call to just stop and look around us, to see how the world, especially the creation of flora and fauna, is being affected by our carelessness. We have become so focused on instant gratification that, astonishingly, we have little to no conscience at all about the gift that is all of creation. In fact, Pope Francis calls our lack of response to care for the environment a sign of ethical failure on the part of humanity: “Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is.” (paragraph 56)
For a visual representation of what is happening:
The encyclical is not a call to look at pretty waterfalls; it’s honestly a call to sacrificial and immediate action. I wish I had more space to explain fully how earnest and compelling Pope Francis was throughout the entire encyclical, but I can tell you this; he was certainly not hippie-ish throughout any of the document. Check out this quote:
The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive.” (paragraph 95)
Care of the environment is a sacred duty. Let’s not be stuck in “our own world” because the whole of creation is so much more.