Editor’s Note: Marybeth Lorbiecki returns with a reflection on Pope Francis’ newly-released encyclical. You may read the encyclical in its entirety at the Vatican website. –Barb
“Laudato Si, mi Signore” – “Praise to you, my Lord.” 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. “Praise to you, my Lord, though our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.
The sister now cries out to use because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our responsible use and abuse of the good with which God has endowed her….
Thus begins Pope Francis’ encyclical, just over a hundred pages long, but one sure to cause a firestorm of reaction because its talk about climate change – not in a political context but in one of love and faith. And it calls all Catholics, Christians, and fellow humans of all faiths, or none, to immediate and resolute actions on fossil fuel and other pollution that harm God’s earth and hits the poor the hardest.
But it’s not a dour document, though its truths about what we have done to our common home and each other are searing – and needed, and cleansing in their honesty. The guidance offered has the power to unite us and get us on the right track in so many ways. Like St. John Paul II, Pope Francis calls for a “conversion” of hearts and an inversion of our values to value as God values, to care as God cares.
What struck me most was the lyrical passages from the Scripture and saints woven through like glittering strands of love and hope. These are worth praying over again and again – to give us the hope and energy to act. In the Gospel of Creation section, we are offered a kind of a dash through the Bible with a view of care of God’s creation. Consider these passages:
Creation is the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all things. ‘For you love all things that exist, and you detest none of the things that you have made; for you would have not made it if you hated it.’ (Wis. 11:24). Every creature is thus an object of the Father’s tenderness, who has made a place for it.
In talking with his disciples, Jesus would invite them to recognize the paternal relationship God has with all his creatures. With moving tenderness he would remind them that each one of them is important in God’s eyes. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. (Luke 12:6) Look at the birds of the air; they neither we sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet my Father feeds them. (Mt. 6:26).
Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed. “What sort of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Mt *:27)…. Jesus worked with his hands, with which he gave form by his craftsmanship.
This is our example, along with that of St. Francis and so many other saints. And this is our time, our chance, our moment to re-awaken as God’s people, alive at a deeper level and ready to take on the world, so to speak, to take on the world of love and restoration. So take the time to read and pray over this encyclical yourself, and look at ways you yourself can cut rethink your attitudes and rework your habits and decisions, and those of your congregation, community, region, and nation. Find creative ways to make it your own and to pass it on to others.
Change is so much easier and more joyful when we do it together – and it won’t be easy, there will be change and sacrifice for all. We will have to slow down to think and respond, and not seek out the ways of “convenience” as the highest value. But the reward will be there, for ourselves, for those who have less than we do and are struggling, for our brother and sister species, and for our children, and grandchildren and all to come. There is so much of spiritual depth and breadth to ponder, pray, discuss, and practical counsel to put into action. The encyclical explains the realities pollution, water scarcity, decreasing biodiversity, the suffering of the poor, loss of human dignity and value, consumerism, and over dependence on technology, and so much more.
Pope Francis reminds us that “The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”
He quotes the Earth Charter: “As never before in history, our common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”
He ends with asking us all to look to Christ, and to Mary, our Mother, and Holy St. Joseph who always has been the strong protector. The encyclical ends with two beautiful prayers, one of which is a specifically Christian prayer and one which can be prayed together with all humanity, a prayer for our earth.
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
And in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
That we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
As brothers and sisters, harming no one.
Oh God of the poor,
Help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth
So precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
That we may protect the world and not prey on it,
That we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
Of those who look only for gain
At the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
To be filled with awe and contemplation.
To recognize that we are profoundly united
With every creature
As we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
For justice, love and peace.
So give yourself the gift of reading the encyclical for yourself; go to the Vatican website www.vatican.va, and read it with your heart. How is God calling you?
As St. John Paul II said to youth in 1995:
Life is a talent entrusted to us
So that we can transform it and increase it,
Making it a gift to others.
No person is an iceberg
Drifting on the ocean of history.
Each one of us belongs to a great family,
In which he [she]has his [her]own role to play.
Selfishness makes people deaf and dumb;
Love opens eyes and ears, enabling people
To make that original and irreplaceable contribution which
together with the thousands of so many brothers and sisters,
often distant and unknown—
converges to form the mosaic of charity
that can change the tide of history.
About the author: Marybeth Lorbiecki, M.A. is the director of Interfaith Oceans, an ethics campaign bridging faith & science, restoring oceans & communities(www.oceanethicscampaign.org). She is also the author of Following St. Francis: John Paul II’s Call for Ecological Action (Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2104), Sister Anne’s Hands, and Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire (to be re-released by Oxford in fall 2015). She’s a graduate of St. Catherine University.