August 28, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

‘Laudato si’: a hymn of praise for all God’s creation

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore”
—“Praise be to you, my Lord.”

In the words of this beautiful canticle, 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. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs” (“Laudato Si’,”#1).

These are the opening sentences of Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” (Praise be to you). With these words, the Holy Father summarizes all that is to come. Our world, indeed all of God’s creation, is not an object to be manipulated by us. It is like a sister, our “Mother Earth,” to be treated with reverence, respect and loving care.

I hope you have an opportunity to read “Laudato Si’ ” in its entirety. You’ll discover that the sound bytes you’ve read or heard in the news media don’t do it justice.

“Laudato Si’ ” is not a political, economic or scientific treatise. It is an encyclical, a “profound letter” addressed by the pope to Church leaders, to the faithful and to all women and men of good will on a matter of great importance to the Church and the world. In this case, the letter addressed by Pope Francis to the world community is about our responsibility to nurture and protect all that God has made.

This encyclical is deeply rooted in a hymn of praise whose final verse concerning Sister Death was composed by St. Francis of Assisi on his deathbed in 1226. We call this magnificent Franciscan hymn The Canticle of the Sun, and unless we appreciate its significance as an expression of authentic Christian ecology, we cannot grasp the full importance of the Holy Father’s teaching in “Laudato Si’.”

Pope Francis tells us, “I do not want to write this encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that St. Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable, and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians.

“He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (#10).

“Laudato Si’ ” addresses this “inseparable bond” between care for the environment and the love of humanity, which alone makes justice and peace possible. The pope tells us we cannot be authentically eco-friendly unless we are also unselfish, loving and fair in our treatment of our fellow human beings—especially those who are most vulnerable, the poor, the sick and the unborn.

A profound reverence and respect for all God’s creatures (for all things visible and invisible) springs not from philosophy or science, but from the deeply personal love each of us is called to have for our Creator God. Because we love God, we love every good thing that God has made.

And so we sing with St. Francis and Pope Francis a hymn of praise for Brother Sun and Sister Moon—and for earth and sky, wind and water, and all our sisters and brothers in the one family of God. We offer this hymn conscious that without the help of God’s grace we would not be worthy to stand in the Lord’s presence and give him thanks. After all, we are sinners who have abused the gifts God has given us, including the gifts of earth and sky, water and wind.

Awareness of our sinfulness, of our culpability in the serious challenges we face environmentally is central to “Laudato Si’.” Pope Francis does not shy away from his responsibility to speak with a prophetic voice whenever necessary to remind us that indifference is a sin and that we will all—each one of us—be held accountable for our stewardship of God’s creation.

Let’s read “Laudato Si’ ” prayerfully with an open mind and heart. Let’s sing with St. Francis and Pope Francis this verse of The Canticle of the Sun: “Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” †

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