July 3, 2015

Be Our Guest / Jack Hill

Church can do many things to respond to pope’s encyclical on environment

“Laudato Si” (“Praised Be”), with the subtitle “Sulla cura della casa comune” (“On the care of the common home”), has been released. So many of us who have anticipated this must now rush to study what Pope Francis is telling us.

We Catholics are called to carefully consider this encyclical. While many—Catholics or others—attempted to tell us what they thought it would cover, and often brought personal prejudices both pro and con to their messages, we can’t afford to do that.

Regardless of what we bring to the reading, we must, for a while, talk less and listen more. Like all encyclicals, “Praised Be” is designed to inform our bishops and the faithful and lead them to prudent action.

Pope Francis has used a fascinating and unique style of communication since he was elected. But he builds on long-standing Catholic teaching.

As St. Pope John Paul II once said, “The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in the many patterns of environmental pollution.”

And Pope Benedict once said, “How can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man’s respect for himself that his responsibility for creation is shown.”

As a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, I found great joy that our current pope took the name “Francis,” which recognizes the impact of St. Francis of Assisi in his life. This was his explanation: “That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … how I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”

This joy I speak of is multiplied when this encyclical itself is named after several phrases found in St. Francis’ prayer “Canticle of the Creatures.”

But we Catholics can’t keep these gifts of man and message to ourselves. How often have we heard from our friends of other faith traditions how much they love our pope, the messages he shares, and how he interacts with all of us? I expect that we will be hearing from energized leaders and adherents of many faith traditions who share our values and intend to follow them with new actions.

I expect that scientists and public policy leaders will join in the discussion and bring their talents and expertise home. Numerous study guides to help us understand “Praised Be” will be released over the next months and years.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin has shown leadership among his brother bishops by calling for a reworking of priorities “so it’s clear that we take him [Pope Francis] seriously, and we’re accepting his pastoral guidance.”

On March 28 at Marian University in Indianapolis, Archbishop Tobin reflected that “a great tragedy of our time is that practically nothing can be discussed without it being filtered through the lens of politics that quickly reduces to us-versus-them sound bites.” He went on to say that “stewardship of creation is a response. It is a way of being and understanding our place in the world. Stewardship of creation is integral to what we are all called to do as Catholics: to respond in love to God who loved us first.”

He added: “Stewardship of creation is also a call for justice, and this call should demonstrate a preference for the poor and the most vulnerable, who are affected the most by this crisis even though they did the least to create the problem and have the fewest resources to adapt.”

What might our Church do in response to the release of “Praised Be”? This is what I pray will happen:

Pope Francis will continue to teach, much as he has since becoming pope.

Our conferences of bishops will make their own statements and take their own actions.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis will renew study and action about “what we are doing, and what we have failed to do” to care for our common home. This ought to draw from our talented and gracious archdiocesan clergy and staff, Care for Creation leaders in parishes, and the wider community. This will impact the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis and, ultimately, our Church at the neighborhood level. One useful step would be to pull out the 2009 Archdiocesan Stewardship Report in order to update and expand it.

Our parish priests will prepare homilies which draw from the encyclical from time to time.

Parish councils will help pastors consider what “Praised Be” means for the “home” church.

Parish buildings and grounds committees will explore, especially as they plan for the future, ways to care for creation.

Parish social justice groups will consider care for creation as part of their mission, or will create a Care for Creation committee to help them with this.

Finally, individual Catholics, besides taking the time to read the entire encyclical and not a filtered version, will follow this with a look at the broad-based Catholic Climate Covenant (www.catholicclimatecovenant.org) programs, and consider taking the St. Francis Pledge.

(Jack Hill, OFS, is Minister of the People of Peace Fraternity, Secular Franciscan Order, in Indianapolis. As chair of the St. Luke the Evangelist Parish Care for Creation Committee in Indianapolis, he has been engaged with the Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light board, and its affiliate, Indianapolis Green Congregations. He is registrar emeritus of Marian University, and can be reached at popindyofs@gmail.com.)

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