September 22, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

‘Laudato Si’ is an encyclical for the 21st century

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

In my column last week, I began to reflect on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

In his own unique style, but consistent with previous popes, Pope Francis provides us with a wonderful blueprint for contemplation and action in response to the environmental challenges of our time. He writes with the true heart of a pastor and the mind of a teacher, seeking not to divide but to unite humanity in prayer, study, reflection, dialogue and response to a very serious issue that has an impact on all of creation. Although challenging, “Laudato Si’ ” ultimately conveys a message of hope.

Running throughout “Laudato Si’ ” is the concept of sustainability by means of an integral ecology. To that end, Pope Francis poses a question for all to consider: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (#160)

Seven key principles of Catholic social teaching are intertwined throughout this encyclical. These include: life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God’s creation. From the perspective of justice, none of these are optional.

Faithful to the Church’s notion of the relationship between faith and reason, Pope Francis draws on the knowledge of experts in various fields of science. The pope is not attempting to provide economic, political or biological solutions. He clearly points out that the role of the Church is not to provide practical solutions, but to provide encouragement and guidance in the search for such solutions.

In particular, Pope Francis emphasizes the plight of the poor in the midst of the environmental challenges before us. He exhorts all humanity to an openness of heart and mind toward a deeper sense of appreciation for all creation as a gift from God. Such appreciation rightfully leads to a greater commitment to simplicity, harmony, humility, solidarity and, most importantly, dialogue.

Not one to shy away from challenges or criticism, Pope Francis stresses the need for both individual and societal conversion to become more engaged in relationship with God, others and creation as a whole. To be authentically and truly free, one cannot exclude any of these relationships without compromising one’s own dignity and integrity.

The Holy Father is especially concerned with all the waste and destruction of what he terms a “throwaway culture,” rooted in selfishness, indifference, excessive individualism and unrestrictive consumerism. He particularly points out that the more industrialized, first-world countries, such as the United States, must assume a greater responsibility for assisting the poorer countries in achieving a more sustainable livelihood.

Excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources by developed countries cannot continue in isolation to the depravations existing in developing countries. While he readily acknowledges that climate change and degradation of the Earth’s resources are not limited to a single issue, Pope Francis does not hesitate to emphasize the “human factor” contributing to the environmental crisis that has especially escalated in the last couple of decades.

Everyone, including the poorest of the poor, has an inalienable right to a decent living, drinkable water, food, employment, health care and housing. To this end, true to his Jesuit spirituality, the Holy Father exhorts each human being to engage in a daily examination of conscience.

Pope Francis makes it clear that authentic, sincere and inclusive engagement in ongoing dialogue is paramount. No one should be left from the table, especially those who are most affected by any type of economic or political decision in any given situation. No one should be left out of the conversation if it is to be honest, just and best for all involved.

Properly caring for Mother Earth, our common home, demands a commitment to sacrifice and simplicity of life on the part of every Christian. Applying “Laudato Si’ ” to the challenges of our local situation, we can begin to make headway by addressing the four principal areas to overcoming the scourge of poverty in our midst as outlined in the Indiana bishops’ pastoral letter “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana.” These include family life, employment, education and health care. Created in the image of God, each of us has the capacity to make a difference.

Drawing grace and inspiration from the unity of the loving relationship of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Spirit, three persons in one God—we human beings are at our best when living in right relationships with God, others, self and creation. †

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