LAUDATO SI’: A Community Conversation - Introduction



Today, we begin a community conversation on Pope Francis’s newly released encyclical On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’). Since so much of this important document pertains not only to our faith lives, but also to our communities and our homes, we’ve decided to “break open” the encyclical with an eight week series of reflections by our family of writers. Each week, we will feature a reflection on one of the chapters and will invite your participation in a dialogue on that chapter. To download the document in free PDF format, visit the Vatican website. If you would prefer to read the encyclical in book format, it is available for purchase from the USCCB.  We pray that this community conversation will be both a blessing for your family and a way for our to grow together as a community as we contemplate our role in caring for our common home. Thank you for embarking on this dialogue with us! Lisa Hendey

To participate:

  1. Read along. We will post a new chapter each week – for an overview of the chapters, visit the Laudato Si’ landing page here at
  2. Leave comments on each post with your thoughts and impressions or even take a stab at the discussion questions. Interact with other commenters.
  3. Share the posts and the discussion in your real-life networks and/or your social networks using hashtag #LaudatoSi

For our introduction to this series, today we welcome Dr. John Bratton (husband of our contributor Heidi Bratton). John and Heidi and their family reside in Michigan, where currently works as an environmental consultant. 

Laudato Si’ – An Introduction

Dr. John Bratton

Dr. John Bratton

With Laudato Si’ Pope Francis reminds us in the language of St. Francis of Assisi, that we should bless God for the “family” of earth, wind, fire, and water he has given us. St. Francis returned to childlike faith and natural wonder, after years apart from God. In this letter to the bishops and to us, Pope Francis is suggesting that we would experience more of the joy of this saint if we were to follow his example more closely. The challenging content of his message is true, but also inconvenient, perhaps?

There are many who don’t really want to hear what Pope Francis has to say in his new encyclical. Why? Because it is always hard to listen to a prophet when his call to repentance and transformation hits too close to home. As happened with the prophets of old, and even John the Baptist, the temptation to shoot the messenger can be hard to resist. But what exactly is Pope Francis calling us to? His hope is that we will turn away from worldly, material attachments, and turn toward a caretaking relationship to the planet and its most vulnerable inhabitants—the creatures of the forests, streams, and oceans, and most especially the poor. Only this will save us from the love of things that threatens to drag us away from God, and ultimately from heaven.

I am trained as a geologist, a student of the planet and its processes, and I have sought throughout my career to integrate my Catholic faith with my science. I know our home planet better than most, and I was eagerly waiting to hear what the pope wanted to say about it. I have worked for many years as a researcher, as a professor of environmental science and stewardship at the college level (and at the homeschool level!), and also as an environmental consultant to cities, agencies, industries, and attorneys. I have seen things that most people never see. When Pope Francis talks about the earth being covered with an “immense pile of filth”, it brings to mind images of landfills where I have worked, with trash (or sewage sludge) piled into great mountains and leaching into creeks. I have also seen the poorest of the poor living in dumps in Mexico with refuse reaching in all directions. The castoffs extract a meager subsistence from the trash of others. When the pope talks about contaminated water, I remember pulling groundwater samples out of test wells that were dripping with oil or seeing jet fuel bubble out of the ground and stain the snow green during a spring thaw.

When a prophet holds a mirror up to us we tend to resort to either the fight or flight response. The fight puts us on the offensive; the flight takes the form of denial. The mirror holding of Pope Francis is unusually comprehensive in this encyclical. The letter covers everything from the depths of ocean ecology to the heights of atmospheric chemistry, along with economic injustice and a restoration of respect for human dignity in all areas of life. Despite news reports or sound bites that may give another impression, Pope Francis is not making a political statement in this letter on behalf of any particular special interest group.

In its early chapters, the encyclical provides the results of a planetary “home inspection” and pinpoints the source of the damage (hint: it’s not termites). The document also explores the theology of creation and God’s plan for us within it. The later chapters apply the interconnectedness of ecology to the linked human and natural systems, which have become fragmented. The last chapters cover the ways we should now live to bring about greater understanding and “ecological conversion”, including recognition of the role of Mary as Queen of Creation.

Early in the letter, the Holy Father optimistically states, “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together…, for we know that things can change [13]”. Near the end, he refers to the letter as “this lengthy reflection which has been both joyful and troubling [246]”. He concludes with two prayers: one for the earth itself, and one in union with creation. The prayers ask God to empower us to bring about his Kingdom, where all life is protected, and where justice and peace flourish. May that prayer be answered in our lives as we reflect on the pope’s message here over the next several weeks with the help of others who have been touched both by God and by his creation.

Dr. John F. Bratton currently works as an environmental consultant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he lives with his wife and CatholicMom author, Heidi, along with a shrinking remnant of his six children and their pets. He has taught courses in geology, oceanography, and environmental science at Stonehill College, Wayne State University, Boston University, and Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies. He spent 17 years as a research scientist and manager in federal laboratories, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.

Dr. Bratton Recommends the following links:

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. What do you hope to learn by participating in this community conversation on Laudato Si’?
  2. What has been your exposure to the encyclical up to this point? What are your early perceptions of the document?
  3. What takeaways did you discover by reading the introductory paragraphs (1-16)?

Next week, we will read and reflect upon Chapter One of Laudato Si’. For more information on this conversation, visit our Laudato Si’ landing page.

Copyright 2015 Lisa M. Hendey and Dr. John Bratton

Image credit: Bessi, Pixabay, Public domain


About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of, a bestselling author and an international speaker. A frequent radio and television guest, Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and communications. Visit Lisa at or on social media @LisaHendey for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish, school or organization. Find Lisa’s books on her Amazon author page.


  1. I so want to take part in this, I’ve had the PDF since it was released. But with so much on my plate right now–Catholic Writers Guild conference next week, hosting a Catholic Writers Retreat in October, and three presentations in between–I’m not able to dedicate the time. I am delighted to know that Heidi and John are in Michigan. Would love to meet up with them some day! Feel free Lisa to connect us.

  2. First of all, I want to thank Dr. Bratton for writing this very inviting reflection. I’m so anxious to break open the encyclical in this way, because (honestly) I’ve been overwhelmed in the past by papal documents. The chance to read and discuss it among friends is going to be an amazing blessing!

  3. Stormy Myers on

    Thank you for the opportunity to participate in some guided reflections, as I am usually very overwhelmed by encyclicals. Will the conversation take place here or on Facebook?

    • Stormy Myers on

      Oh dear– I just read the instructions on the landing page. Question answered! Sorry! 🙂

  4. My answers to the reflection questions from above:

    1. What do you hope to learn by participating in this community conversation on Laudato Si’?

    I’m so happy to be discussing this document with others. I hope that reading it among a community will not only help me to grasp new insights I might have missed on my won, but will also give me a sense of accountability: not just for reading this, but also for making true and lasting changes in my own life.

    2. What has been your exposure to the encyclical up to this point? What are your early perceptions of the document?

    My only exposure has been what I’ve seen on tv or heard in the media. My early perceptions of the document are that it is positive, but also controversial. This is why I want to read and study it for myself.

    3. What takeaways did you discover by reading the introductory paragraphs (1-16)?

    I found this quote in P. 1 to be so beautiful – “… St. 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.” I am blessed with both sisters who are a dear friend and a mother who is an exceptional source of inspiration, so this imagery truly captured my heart. I loved that Pope Francis shared the environmental teachings of his predecessors and that he invited the whole world (not just Catholics or even just Christians) into a lasting dialogue.

  5. John Bratton on

    Sr. Margaret,
    Thanks for kicking off the comments! So many good things to do–I know the feeling. This encyclical is longer than most so it will take some work to digest. It reminds me of the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” I’m glad we have a group to work on understanding and applying this message together.

    …and Lisa. The images and metaphors in this letter are critical. In many ways, creation itself is an image of God–the book of nature that complements the book of scripture. As you mention your sister and mother, we each need to read with hearts open to the images that will resonate with us personally.

  6. I am named after St. Clare, my husband’s patron is St. Francis, and we met studying theology at Franciscan University. This encyclical has my name all over it!!! Seriously, though, I finished the encyclical last night and think it holds much, much more than the commentaries I’ve come across indicate. Can’t wait to see what everyone else thinks.

    • John Bratton on

      Thanks for joining in, Claire (and Francis)! I hope our discussion lives up to your expectations. Maybe you can be our mascots/intercessors? (ha, ha)

  7. I am always interested in what the Pope has to say, I love my Catholic faith and strive to be well informed in it. I knew I would, eventually, get to Laudato Si, but when someone on Facebook was attacking Pope Francis on sticking his nose where ‘it doesn’t belong”, I knew I needed to educate myself on this document . I am not one to engage in FB squabbles but this is God’s planet and His representative cluing us into how we should treat it, for our OWN good seemed right on point. Anyway, I guess that then what I hope to get out of participation in this discussion is a better understanding for myself and to share with others.

    • john_bratton on

      Great responsiveness to the prompting of God, Allison! Sometimes squabbles show us areas where we need to grow, either in our own understanding of a subject, or maybe in our understanding of how someone else is perceiving the world, or perceiving us. Your goals of a better understanding, first for yourself, and then to share with others, is honoring to God and I’m sure will be blessed. Along with knowing what to share (i.e., the truth), the tricky part often comes in knowing how to share it. Speaking the truth in love, or with a spoonful of sugar, or with some other simple-sounding packaging is never quite as simple as it sounds. This is where storytelling can sometimes help, as shown by the way Jesus used parables, or Nathan told King David about the man who took the sheep of another.

  8. Dr. Ms. Ordetta Mendoza on

    THis is not a comment but an attempt to request Dr. Bratton to speak at a gathering of people in INDIA via videp conferencing on the latest Encyclical Laudato Si’ . I can be reached by email. The programme is scheduled for July 17, 2015 at 6.00pm IST (8.30 am EDT) at Loyola College, Chennai, INDIA. Kindly respond asap with technical support available at your end if he is accepting the request. Thanks, Ordetta (Associate Prof. of Botany, Stella Maris College, Chennai, INDIA)

  9. Dr. Bratton, I am glad that a geologist offered the first commentary on this encyclical as I was quite bewildered by the ongoing disconnect there seems to be between faith & reason or religion & science. I would like to think that this is merely because of ideological or politically motivated actions, but as someone who works with the RCIA and with families in faith formation, I am constantly astounded at how many well meaning catholics conflate these two disciplines or fail to understand the consistency between being a person of faith and a professional scientist.

    I liked very much the metaphor for the first chapter as the results of a “home inspection.” Also, your recap on the difficult role of Prophet are well placed. These last few weeks of Sunday Readings have always made me reflect upon the surprising push-back this document received, not just in the political or secular realm, but among catholics as well. And Scriptures were quite clear about the kind of self-reflection and humility it takes to stand aside so as to hear God’s message.

    In any case, to answer some of your reflection questions, I have been struck by the style of the encyclical. It is very different than any of the previous that I have read (and I have had to read all the Vatican II documents and some other Papal documents as part of my graduate theology training). But as someone who reads this both “professionally” and for a basic “view in the pew” take-away, I am more sympathetic as to why this encyclical–simple as its message is (at least to me and anyone who has normalized recycling into their lives, or cares about clean drinking water, etc.), becomes more complicated.

    We are living in transitional times–as we always are. But when those times create upheaval with tradition or seem to upset continuity, then it is easier to understand how people get disoriented. We did just transition Papacies, just recently had a “new” mass translation, etc. And this encyclical, as I already started to say, is very different in tone/style. How so? It isn’t as weighted down in context as the Vatican II documents. And as such, it sometimes feels like reading a comment thread on a blog. That is a very different reader-writer-commenters experience. After all, blogs were certainly not even how I read these documents 10-15 years ago in seminary.

    Also, the context of the times has changed so much. The role of “the Church” as a moral force in the modern world was so eloquently put forth in the 1960s–at a particular time of unrest here in the U.S. where moral force and religious conviction played a major role in Civil Rights history and in condemnation of war and poverty. Our earliest encyclicals took to task a critique of modern industrialization long before most of us even thought about raising the minimum wage during this current presidency, for example.

    While I certainly am with the pope in terms of the integration of faith and reason/religion and science, and believe in the moral imperative and value of living in harmony with the environment and others, I am not sure that the larger secular world which has grown much more aggressive and incredulous to religious people, or the larger distracting din that surrounds these issues makes it easier to hear or to talk about these issues sensibly and build consensus for action.

    So I guess my final thoughts for now would be that I hope that in reading/reflecting on this document together this community might become better in this current climate at speaking truth to power–which is not the same as getting political. And perhaps re-energize those older grassroots or build new networks of support that believe in the common goals of living in better harmony with the world and taking better care of the least among us. That we can find common example and witness that puts our beliefs into quiet action that others can see and wish to follow.

    • John Bratton on

      Jay, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree that many of us are experiencing cultural and personal upheaval, which can be quite disorienting. The great hope of ridding the world of poverty and disease through science and technology seems to have been dashed on the rocks of pride and selfishness. We now find ourselves in a postmodern world where even science can’t save us. But then we never should have thought it could, right? Maybe this is just the latest Tower of Babel or idol we have raised. That said, proper science conducted humbly by one who knows both Creator and creation can be a beautiful thing, and a great blessing to the world. –John

  10. John,
    Your reflections are so on target. I skimmed the entire document only days after its public release, and I actually wrote a reflection of my own at Catholic Exchange. But I knew that 1200 words would not do justice to the depths that Our Holy Father writes about. I have to say that it makes me sad to see such division regarding this encyclical from both ends of the political spectrum. I wish people would recognize that Pope Francis isn’t being political. He’s writing from a very deep connection with humanity, the Earth and God. He’s not promoting eco-spirtuality but rather is prophesying (as you say so well) that the Earth is sick, and this sickness reflects the myriad social and individual sins of our day.

    • John Bratton on

      Yes, Jeannie, there are so many counterfeit versions of these messages around that it becomes difficult sometimes to recognize the real thing. Thank you for trying. Your efforts will be blessed–they have already blessed me!

  11. 1. By reading this encyclical and discussing it within this community, I also hope to learn how to make a more significant and lasting change in my life, in my family and in my faith community. A few years ago our parish took an online St. Francis pledge and we did a multi-generational retreat on Care for Creation. And since then, we have made changes and reduced our carbon footprint some. But I guess I am looking for a deeper and longer lasting change..
    2. The only exposure I’ve had is the coverage by the catholic and secular media, some of it interesting, strange and amusing. I knew I had to get to the source!
    3. My take away from the introduction was the challenging quote from Patriarch Bartholomew for Christians “… to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale.” Accept the world as a sacrament of communion. Now that’s a challenge!

    • john_bratton on

      Liz, your highlighting of the quote from Patriarch Bartholomew reminded me of the idea expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas that all theology is analogy. That is to say that we only understand bits about God, who is ultimately beyond our comprehension, by comparison of him and his kingdom with earthly things that we understand better–mustard seeds, pearls, oil, bread, kings, salt, fathers, rain, vines, lamps, food webs. It is interesting how many references to the natural world the scriptures contain. This is not an accident, I guess. Thank God for our senses, and also for the realities beyond our senses.

  12. I have only read the introduction and part of Chapter One of Laudato Si, but I am already captivated! I have to admit that I am guilty of not thinking too much about caring for our dear Earth. I have always tried to do what you’re supposed to do: recycle, not waste water or food, and live frugally, but this document is opening my eyes to the gift from God that is our world. I love the phrases Pope Francis includes, like, “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” and “Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.” This is so encouraging as a parent! People are flawed. They sin. They don’t always do the best job of “granting us a glimpse of [God’s] infinite beauty and goodness”. But the petals of a rose have opened the same way since the time they were created. Every sunset is a new figment of our Creator’s imagination. The way a robin instinctively knows how to care for her young never ceases to amaze. I started nature journals with my children a few months ago, and this document is inspiring me to continue educating my children in the wonders of the natural world. I hope that by revering even the smallest leaf, they will make the connection between that and the Creator of all humanity–and respect all as dignified creations of God.

    • John Bratton on

      You have chosen the better part! What a beautiful reflection. Teaching little ones to see the simple gifts that God showers upon them each day in leaves, flowers, bugs, and rocks(!) is teaching them his “little way of love”. To see rightly is the beginning of true wisdom.
      Amen to your God-given mom instincts. Trust what God has placed in your heart.

  13. I’m so grateful for this introduction, Dr. Bratton! Indeed, the Pope is speaking prophetically as he is called to do. This encyclical quite frankly challenges everyone. But isn’t that what the gospel always does? If we ever get too comfortable and complacent, we can be sure either that we are not really listening or it is not the gospel that we are hearing.

  14. john_bratton on

    Dr. Italy,

    Thank you for your kind words. You remind me of the saying that Christ came “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable”. I know I can do more to help both the poor and the planet, and I am probably not alone, but many of the impacts and needs are out of sight, and too easily out of mind as well.


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