September 11, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

We are stewards of all God’s creation

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
Who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you light the night,
And he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
—St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun

The new encyclical of Pope Francis, “Laudato Si’ ” (“Praised be to you”), is about adopting a wholly new attitude toward “our common home,” the world we live in and are an integral part of. Drawing his inspiration from his patron, St. Francis of Assisi, the Holy Father passionately urges us to see the created universe—all things visible and invisible—as our sisters and brothers.

The profound change in attitude that Pope Francis prays will take place in the minds and hearts of all people of good will should also have profound consequences. “We are not God,” the pope reminds us. “The Earth was here before us, and it has been given to us” (#67).

Human beings are called to be stewards of all God’s gifts. We are not owners, and certainly not “masters of the universe” who are free to dominate, abuse or waste the precious resources entrusted to our care by a generous and loving God. Pope Francis reminds us that we belong to the earth; the Earth does not belong to us.

As the Holy Father says, “This responsibility for God’s Earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world, for ‘he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away’ ”(#68; Ps 148:5b–6).

The canticle of St. Francis emphasizes that we are called to develop fraternal relationships with all God’s creatures. Certainly we are to be brothers and sisters to one another, even to strangers and enemies. But we are also called to relate to animals, plants and minerals as if they were our kinfolk. For most of us, this is a very strange way to think about things, especially inanimate objects. And yet, it reveals a sensitivity to—even a form of reverence for—the giftedness of God’s creation and our responsibility to nurture, cultivate and share generously all that has been given to us as stewards.

In “Laudato Si’, ” Pope Francis reminds us that “The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. ‘You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help. … If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young’ (#68; Dt 22:4, 6). Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so ‘that your ox and your donkey may have rest’ ” (#68; Ex 23:12).

Profound reflection on the responsibility to care for all God’s creation leads us to a new awareness of what Pope Francis calls “integral ecology.” This is the realization that everything God has made is interconnected.

It is not possible to care deeply, or authentically, for the environment if we are not concerned about the dignity, welfare and rights of our fellow human beings, especially those who are most vulnerable. “A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach,” the pope writes. “It must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” (#49).

This is why Pope Francis urges us to see that we are not dealing with separate crises—environmental, social, economic or political. “Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (#139).

“Laudato si, mi Signore” (“Praised be to you, my Lord”) sings the great saint from Assisi who reminds us that the Earth we inhabit, our common home, is more like a sister or a mother than an indifferent material object or a place where we happen to dwell. Mother Earth opens her arms to embrace us, but how do we respond?

Let’s pray that God’s grace will help us to see the world with new eyes and open hearts. May we learn to respond generously to all our sisters and brothers in the one family of God. May we praise God by our loving care for all God’s gifts. †

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