February 9, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Abuse of environment threatens human life, dignity

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“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’,” on Care for Our Common Home,”#1).

For the past six weeks, these columns have focused on human life and dignity. Abortion, euthanasia, suicide, racism, sexism, nativism, all forms of abusive behavior and addiction to prescription and illegal drugs are all social problems that threaten human life and dignity. The Gospels and Catholic social teaching challenge us to overcome these evils in our personal lives and in our culture.

Care for God’s creation is a core element of Catholic social teaching. Our Church honors the beauty of creation, and admonishes us to be responsible stewards of all that God has made.

Pope Francis frequently reminds us that there is an essential link between stewardship of the environment and our care for our fellow human beings—especially the poor and the vulnerable.

Recently, the pope said, “Even if nature is at our disposition, all too often we do not respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations. Here, too, what is crucial is responsibility on the part of all in pursuing, in a spirit of fraternity, policies respectful of this Earth which is our common home.”

The Church is not only committed to protecting the environment, but above all we seek to protect humankind from self-destruction. By respecting and caring for human life, we grow in our ability to respect and care for God’s gift of creation!

In order for us to be good stewards of this great gift of God’s creation, we must first acknowledge God’s role as the author and the true owner of everything that is—both the visible and the invisible universe. Our role as stewards is to express our gratitude, in words and in action, and to do our part to nurture and protect all that the Creator God has entrusted to our care. For this to happen, it is essential to develop a profound relationship between human beings and the environment that mirrors the love of God for all creation.

In the opening sentences of Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’ ” (Praised be to you), the pope tells us that 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.

“Laudato Si’ ” is not a political, economic or scientific treatise. It is an encyclical—a teaching letter—that 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’.”

“Laudato Si’ ” addresses the “inseparable bond” between care for the environment and the love of humanity which alone makes justice and peace possible (#10). 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 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.

Seven key principles of Catholic social teaching are intertwined throughout “Laudato Si’.” 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, not one of these principles is optional. This makes “care for creation” a life issue, an essential feature of our efforts to reverence and defend all human life.

As we prepare for the holy season of Lent—a time of repentance and renewal, let’s pray for the grace to be good stewards of all God’s gifts (material and spiritual). Let’s also pray for the courage to defend human life and dignity by caring for our common home! †

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