LAUDATO SI’: A Community Conversation - Chapter One

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laudato_si_conversation

Today, we continue our community conversation on Pope Francis’s newly released encyclical On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’). For instructions on how to participate, an overview of the chapters, and information on how to download or purchase the encyclical, visit the Laudato Si’ landing page here at CatholicMom.com. ! Lisa Hendey

Chapter One: What Is Happening to Our Common Home?

Today, Susan Bailey and Allison Gingras reflect upon Chapter One.

Susan Bailey:

I normally don’t read papal encyclicals for fear I won’t understand them. The storm of controversy that has risen from Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, caused me to reconsider.

Having read other writings by the pope, I felt confident I could grasp what he was saying. Pope Francis has a writing style that is quite accessible while being rich with meaning.

I knew too that the media would not understand his message and I was right, reducing the encyclical to a political document about global warming (which is only part of the story). The pundits are having a field day with it, one side crowing victory (while selectively ignoring certain portions) while the other laments and condemns.

Our world today is obsessed with the idea of parsing, separating, compartmentalizing, fragmenting, and in many cases marginalizing humanity into demographics, political affiliations, sex, religion, rich and poor. This behavior governs the way we use that which God created—rather than cherish the earth like a precious gift to be cared for, we use it as a commodity to do with as we please, with no consideration of how those actions will affect the ecosystem and, future generations.

In essence, humanity continues to separate itself from God with a vengeance.

Laudato Si seeks to address this fragmentation with a strong message of unity and interconnectedness. This is not just a document about global warming, ecology and the poor–this is a document about the consequences of sin.

The word “sin” is never used in this chapter but it is obvious when you look at the whole just what Pope Francis is saying. While the dictionary defines sin as a transgression, in fact, it’s more about creating separation, a breaking apart of the whole. Our first parents’ sin was not simply disobeying God’s command; they were openly declaring themselves to be equal to God, thus turning away from him. The perfect relationship with the Creator was broken and the result was the introduction of death into the world.

That first sin began a domino effect of still more sin resulting in a dire breakdown in human relationships (beginning with Cain slaying Abel).

Pope Francis lays out a compelling argument on the consequences of sin in our world by first reminding us that we are all connected, not to just each other, but to all creation:

“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” Chapter 1-42.

To understand just how interwoven all creation is, consider the food chain: What happens when the first element of that chain is disrupted? Does it not ripple through the entire chain? We’d all love to wipe out mosquitos but then what would the consequence be for those animals dependent upon what we consider to be a pest? Would it affect us? Science would say “yes” and Pope Francis agrees.

There is far too much in Chapter One to address in this short post. I encourage you to read it and see the thread of connection that runs through the Pope’s argument. I know one thing: I did not buy the argument of global warming before I read it, mainly because of the way the argument is presented. Having read this chapter, I am changing my way of thinking on it. For one thing, I know that my own personal actions have consequences and I need to consider changing the way I treat others and the world around me.

Read Susan Bailey’s bio and columns at CatholicMom.com

Allison Gingras:

A “neologism” is defined as the coining of a new word or expression. As I begin reading Laudato Si, it was hard not to notice a new word introduced by Pope Francis – “Rapidification”.  This word cleverly expresses the speed and state of the current world.

Pope Francis reminds us of pollution and climate change, a subject for many years, I was largely distanced from living in very rural America. In November of 2009, my husband and I traveled to China to adopt our daughter. Our trip to China was incredibly enlightening. We were there for just over 2 weeks and we saw blue skies just once moments after a midday rainstorm. We were actually caught in that storm and my daughter’s white shirt turned gray and stained where it had been soaked by the rain. The rest of our visit, in all three locations of the east coast of China, the sky was filled with smog. I suffered from environmental allergies and a cough there and for months after we returned home. In Wuhan, our hotel room over looked the Yangtzee river, colored a murky shade of chocolate milk, with many objects floating along in it. We share this world, but until we visit more than my small corner it can be difficult to recognize that fact.

As I recollected my images of the river and read Pope Francis’ words, warning of the dangers of being a “throw away culture”, there was a twinge in my own heart as I recognized my own behavior. We are not handy in our house; we are most likely to buy new instead of trying to repair. We rationalize by saying we are helping the economy but have we really counted the cost. I am a terrible consumer, especially when it comes to food shopping and meal planning which leads to discarding of food. This is an area I immediately amended, after I read, “throwing away food is like stealing from the poor”. This is not the clean your plate club, this is much more – a mindful consumption of resources starting with our choices in the supermarket.

The cautioning of pollution and climate change leading to an “increase extreme weather” also hit close to home, literally as I considered how our Northeast summer forecasts now regularly include Tornado warnings and this winter we had over 5 feet of snow in less than 2 months! At one point I was unable to back out of my driveway because I could not see over the snow banks. I had to kick my 16 year old son out of the car to act as traffic control. I may want to disregard what Pope Francis is exhorting us to consider in chapter one but personal experience sure makes that much more difficult.

“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.” My small world view truly needs to change, even after my world travels including touring the slums of Rio during World Youth Day, I can still be foolishly unaware. Pope Francis’ words however are hopeful; reminding us it is not too late. We can make significant and efficacious changes in emissions to benefit the home we share, would it not act much like the reverse effects on a person’s lungs when they quit smoking.

“Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.”

Read Allison Gingras’ bio and columns at CatholicMom.com

Questions to ponder:

  1. What was your first impression of Chapter One of Laudato Si? Was it what you expected? Did it disturb you and if so, how?
  2. What specific actions can you take to become a better steward of the world around you? Do you see your actions affecting others? How?
  3. What experiences in your life have helped you to have a more global picture of the world of our common home?
  4. Are there steps we can take to do our part to address the issues Pope Francis outlines in Chapter One?

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

Copyright 2015 Susan Bailey and Allison Gingras

Image credit: Bessi, Pixabay, Public domain

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

15 Comments

  1. Allison, you brought home beautifully what I eluded to in my post – our own personal behavior and responsibility towards the world around us. That’s what struck me too and this what Pope Francis does so brilliantly–while his words are addressed to the global community, they are also addressed to each individual: how do we conduct ourselves as Christians?

    The state of our world in all its forms is too big for any one person to tackle, and we’re not asked to tackle the entire problem but rather, the portion of which we are assigned as stewards. If we each focus on our own behavior as you have done so candidly, then and only then will the world begin to change.

    • Bingo Susan – it is a document about the consequences of sin!! This is truly a matter of the body of Christ needing to work together to solve issues and stop the destruction we are bringing on this world (that we consequently all share) – cant’ imagine the trouble we’ll be in if we keep thinking it is someone else’s problem or that it doesn’t effect me.

  2. Allison-I, too, was struck by the quote, “throwing away food is like stealing from the poor.” That statement stuck with me the entire day after I read it. It brought about a self revelation of how often I’ve wasted, been careless, or just haven’t thought much about how I care for our earth and, in turn, the most vulnerable who live in it. I immediately started being more conscientious about saving food, recycling absolutely everything that can be recycled, and not purchasing anything new if I think I might find something used that can be repurposed, or repair something I already own. I actually love how this feeds into a more simple lifestyle! I can’t wait to finish reading the encyclical!

    • John Bratton on

      Thank you for these personal sharings. I am reminded of a recent interview I heard where a monk shared about how a family could enter into the vows of the consecrated. With respect to poverty, he said that we should try to live as simply as possible and avoid extravagance and wastefulness. This is what Charisse and others are sharing. We need to push back against the throwaway consumption-oriented culture and enjoy simple pleasures like walks outdoors. This is not only better for the earth, but also better for us and our families and relationships. I think I will go outside tonight and check out the fireflies.

    • John Bratton on

      I just saw a report from the USDA that said 31% of food available in the U.S. at retail and consumer levels is wasted–wow! (http://endhunger.org/food-waste/)

      That’s $162 billion worth of food. That definitely feels like stealing from the poor and hungry in multiple ways.

  3. Right now I am staying in San Diego with my family for just a few precious, much-anticipated days, and a recent rainstorm washed so much pollution into the local beaches that we were advised not to even go onto a beach for two days. Tell that to an excited five-year-old. Ugh! There are many more important reasons to consider this encyclical than a disappointing family vacation but boy, did it make things hit home. God put an exclamation point on chapter one for me this week!

    • Claire, I think you hit on something though with the personalizing of how your family was effected by the pollution. If we all have a personal encounter with the environmental issues stemming from our treatment of the planet (or the treatment by those not caring for it ) – then it is easier to see this is something we all need to come together to pray, discuss and HOPEFULLY solve before it is too late . Thank you for weighing in!! Hope your family get in at least one good beach day!

  4. I am so grateful for the chance to read Laudato Si’ with all of you. I am not sure I would do so otherwise … I really like Pope Francis’ approach to what is happening to our common home (love that phrase). His perspective cannot be placed on a political spectrum; he is looking at it in such a bigger way, trying to relay how God might be seeing the destruction of His creation. Looking at the earth as our common home makes it personal and humane. He writes this so eloquently, merging ecology and humanity “so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

    I was struck by the term “rapidification,” too. He put a word to what I’ve been thinking about so many things for a long time! Things just seem to be spinning out of control faster than we realize, and how can we slow that down and make things right?

    On a personal note, I also felt the sting of the words “throwing away food is like stealing from the poor,” as I know I’ve been guilty of this. It has caused me to be much more conscience about food shopping and preparing. Also, I recently spent some time in the Black Hills of South Dakota. So much of that land is preserved as national forest or park. It is incredible how “untouched” it is. The space just felt cleaner, too … If only we could do this for those other spaces on our planet that need preservation. It’s not just about saving the trees … As Pope Francis said, “thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence” because of what is happening on earth.

    Looking forward to continuing the dialogue with all of you!

    • Sarah, your comment is so timely! Last night my uncle and I got into a discussion about the encylical and he was looking at it from a conservative political point of view, I offered to send him the full encyclical plus what I wrote about it but I could not figure out how to summarize it such that he would lay aside his pre-conceived notions, Viola, up comes your comment! So I sent it along to him too! Now praying the Spirit will guide him as he reads.

      By the way, this gives me the chance to tell you how much I enjoy your reflections in As Morning Breaks. I read it every day and have been dying to tell the different writers how much I enjoy the reflections. I’ve shared several with the lady I take communion to on Tuesdays and she loves them too.

  5. Susan and Allison,
    Thank you both for your posts on Chapter One- there is so much to ponder! I wanted to address your thoughts, Susan, about sin and separation. In this culture where individualism is worshiped, we have been taught to separate ourselves- create our own identities. And in this process, we lose ourselves, for we end up separating ourselves from the Truth of who we are in God’s image. I once heard in a class, though, that God allows the separation, so that He can manifest His power in reconciling us! It all happens at the cross- the place of true reconciliation with God. How awe-filled we can be at His Great Mercy. This is certainly on the Pope’s heart as well, as he has called for a Year of Mercy to begin. God bless!

  6. Good points Cindy and I would take it a step further: we are encouraged in our world to fragment our own selves by compartmentalizing. I’ve seen business sites especially cheerleading the compartmentalizing of ourselves so we can better focus on our work. I maintain that compartmentalizing is unhealthy and not what we are meant to be. Compartmentalizing encourages secrecy – one “part” of you does something that the rest of you tucks away in its own compartment, never to be addressed. JFK comes to mind as the master of compartmentalizing – leading one private life with his wife and another with other women while all the while, maintaining a public life governing our country.

    I became aware a few years ago that I keep parts of my life secret from those I love. These were not “bad” things necessarily; it was more that I was afraid of being mocked and misunderstood. My faith life was part a BIG part of this secrecy (and still is something I battle with). Jesus said that all that is hidden in the dark will be revealed in the light; I made a formal decision to no longer have secrets in my life. It is far healthier to be whole within yourself than be many parts. It’s the only way you can be true to God and yourself.

    By overcoming sin (the great divider), Jesus makes it possible for us to be whole, to no longer be slaves to sin which separates. Whole individuals lead to whole communities (and fights the culture of individualism which you so astutely mention). Whole communities lead to wholeness in the world because we recognize our inherent connection to each other and the world. This to me is the essence of the Pope’s words – he SO gets this about wholeness, connections and finding all that through our life in Christ.

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