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 Six: Ecological Education and Spirituality
Today Jeannie Ewing and Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur reflect upon Chapter Six.
Are we really free as long as we have “the freedom to consume”? Pope Francis exhorts us to a paradigm shift in our cognition, our social interactions, and the very undercurrent of our lifestyles. In essence, there is an urgency like never before that we must radically change. This means that, instead of pursuing materialism and superficial alterations to our bodies, we must look at the emptiness in our hearts that we are desperately attempting to fill with all that does not satisfy. Once we identify our emptiness and the void that must be filled with something – Someone – then we are better equipped to refocusing our efforts to pursuing God alone.
What does this mean for someone like you and me? Pope Francis tells us in this chapter that consciously stepping away from the consumerist lifestyle necessarily impels us toward the other. Not only do we begin by changing ourselves – our attitudes, behaviors, even the condition of our hearts – but we subsequently change the way we view the world and humanity. When we are filled with virtue and God’s grace, we are more apt to turn away from the tendency toward greed and mere acquisition of goods and instead turn toward our hurting and suffering neighbors. For some, this change may even open our hearts to the spiritual charism of voluntary poverty. (Remember: radical change!)
Ultimately, Pope Francis envisions that, the more people return to simplicity and humility in our approach to what he defines as “ecological citizenship,” the greater the global impact. Eventually economics will change, as will the field of education. When we change, our children will, as well, and then an entire generation of people will rise up to fill the economic need for leaders who are virtuous and deeply comprehend the sickness that has infected both our planet and humanity.
The cycle of generativity begins with you and me, here and now. Pope Francis is challenging us to ongoing conversion, which results in slow but steady transformations in our families and communities. It’s true that we need to live with more intentionality and more spiritual fervor. Eventually, the beautiful fruits of our perhaps hidden efforts (and more visible ones) will ripen over the course of time. It takes each of us to say our individual fiat to this challenge, but only through global action will the long-term effects switch the direction of our moral and ecological health.
In Chapter 6 “Ecological Education and Spirituality,” Pope Francis offers some concrete suggestions on how we, as parents, can help the environment. We can do this both through our own actions and how we educate our children.
We live in a consumerist culture. Every marketing message tells us that if we just buy whatever product is being advertised, our lives will be better and happier. “When people become self-centered and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy own and consume. . . Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them.” (204-205) This is a game no one can win. There will always be something new and better to purchase. The feeling of emptiness may be temporarily filled by this acquisition, but it will soon return. We must learn to fill that emptiness with God and relationships with people, rather than things.
The Pope also encourages us to take practical steps to improve the environment and to teach our children to do the same.
“Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transportation or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.” (211)
These all seem like simple things, and we might wonder if they really make any difference in the face of such huge environmental issues but the Pope says that we must not feel that way. Small acts of goodness can spread, plus taking these actions can help us engage more fully with the world around us. (212)
Our children can be educated about environmental concerns in many places, including school, through the media, and religious education classes, but the most important classroom is the family. “In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; . . . respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. . . In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say ‘thank you’ as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings.” (213) What we do in the home is of utmost importance. Our children watch what we do and ask why we do it.
We have the power to change the world one simple action at a time.
- It can be hard to make huge changes all at once. What is one small step you can take this week to take better care of the environment?
- In many homes, “stuff”seems to reproduce overnight. Pick one closet or room to go through this week. Find at least one bag’s worth of items to donate to your local charity or thrift store. For extra credit, try to go the whole week without buying anything other than food.
This concludes our conversation. We thank all of those who studied the document with us. To reflect back on this encyclical, visit our Laudato Si’ landing page.
Copyright 2015 Jeannie Ewing and Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
Image credit: Bessi, Pixabay, Public domain