Fr Tom Rouse, Columban Mission, Lower Hutt
In the introductory paragraph to this final chapter of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis explains in undertaking the tasks and responsibilities of ecological education, that we face ‘a long path of renewal’ that will demand ‘the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life’ (202).
Above all, this will call for a change of lifestyle. In this way we can bring pressure to bear upon society at large.
Here we come to what is involved in living up to our commitment to ‘environmental responsibility’: avoid ‘the use of plastic and paper’; reduce ‘water consumption’; separate rubbish; cook ‘only what can reasonably be consumed’; show ‘care for other living beings’; use ‘public transport or car-pooling’; plant trees; turn off ‘unnecessary lights; etc (211). This is also a check-list against which we can measure the degree of our commitment.
However, beyond any check-list what is required is a ‘profound interior conversion’. Here we arrive at an awareness that our call to be ‘protectors of God’s handiwork’ is an essential and definitive dimension of our Christian way of life (217).
But this commitment should not be seen as a miserable burden. Rather it should be inspired by a spirituality based on ‘moderation and the capacity to be happy with little’ (222). Let us then relax and recover a sense of what it means to live in harmony with creation, following the example of Jesus who contemplated the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (226). Francis reminds us of another small gesture that should flow from this type of spirituality and that is the practice of giving thanks to God before and after meals (227).
“Our call to be ‘protectors of God’s handiwork’ is an essential and definitive dimension of our Christian way of life.”
These ‘small daily gestures’ (230) are the basis of what Francis calls ‘social love’ which can move ‘us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” which permeates all society’ (231). Such strategies involve different types of community action that are presently taking place through the work of various organisations that ‘promote the common good and … defend the environment’ (232).
As Christians within the Catholic tradition, we have been gifted with a sacramental life and a belief in God as ‘trinitarian communion’ (239), both of which should enhance our commitment to care for the earth since they enable us to attain that mystical experience whereby we can recognise the ‘intimate connection’ between God and all of creation (234). Indeed, our central act of worship, the eucharist, is ‘an act of cosmic love’ (236). As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘Everything is connected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity’ (240).
In acknowledging the sensitivity of Mary, our Mother and Queen of all creation, who feels the pain and calls for a renewed vision of creation, and the creativity of her spouse, St Joseph, whose hands worked with the very gifts of creation, we are reminded that the most important place of learning about what is involved in caring for our environment is the family (213).
In a final section of this chapter, Pope Francis also reminds us of a key theme of his earlier encyclical Evangelii Gaudium when he says, ‘May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope’ (244).
This encyclical began with a song, the canticle of St Francis of Assisi, and it ends with not just one prayer but two prayers – a prayer for our earth and a Christian prayer in union with creation. Here Pope Francis shows exemplary sensitivity to his audience, including those who share his concern for the planet but not his Christian faith. After all, we all share and care for this common homeland, our planet earth.
As we begin a new year, less we lose hold of the significance and initial impact of this encyclical Laudato Si’, I would suggest that we type out these prayers and put them up on a shelf at home and ensure they have a place in our personal, family and community prayer. Likewise, let us type out the Pope Francis’ check-list and keep it in a place where we can remind ourselves of what is involved in living up to our commitment to environmental responsibility. Furthermore, I think we should add to the list or more clearly spell out what is involved in each of the areas already mentioned in the encyclical.
New Year resolutions – these tend to be individualistic and vaguely moralistic, like saying, ‘I will try to be a better person’. Instead let us take on resolutions that we can share with others, resolutions whereby we can show our concern, not just for our individual selves but for ourselves as a community and as a global community that is connected to our environment, our earth.
Perhaps we could also connect with organisations that not only share our concern for our planet but also our faith, like the Catholic climate movement, by visiting their website, https//catholicclimatemovement.global and say a prayer of gratitude for Pope Francis who inspired us to sing the canticle ‘Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore’ – ‘Praise be to you, my Lord’.
In the words of his canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.”
Laudato Si’ – Chapter Six: ecological education and spirituality
I Towards a new lifestyle
II Educating for the covenant between humanity and the environment
III Ecological conversion
IV Joy and peace
V Civic and political love
VI Sacramental signs and the celebration of rest
VII The trinity and the relationship between creatures
VIII Queen of all creation
IX Beyond the sun