by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
An obvious and crucial dimension of this Season of Creation looks at the dire and worsening situation in which “our common home” finds itself today. In fact, much of these five weeks center on such negative realities.
They can be approached from various points of view – scientific, sociological, political – etc., each with its own analysis. Another way of reflecting and acting of the state of our world is a pastoral approach, modeled by Pope Francis in his groundbreaking encyclical Laudato si’ (On Care for Our Common Home).
Consider for a moment who Pope Bergoglio is. He comes from Latin American and Italian cultures with their wonderful celebratory way of living. His joyful, engaging and totally upbeat personality is what is called in Spanish el don de amistad (the gift of friendship). This is key to his all-encompassing pastoral view of the papacy.
Naturally, then, Laudato si’ begins with a graceful, poetic way, paraphrasing the words of the other Francis, the one from Assisi: “Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us” (LS. No.1). Every part of “On Care for Our Common Home” is a call to Catholic Christians and all people of good will to look on this beautiful home through the eyes of a loving God and treat it as such.
At the same time this joy-filled pope is clear-eyed about the darknesses that threaten to envelope Planet Earth. Early on in Laudato si‘ he makes a startling, uncharacteristic observation when he writes: “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (LS. No.21). He analyzes in detail specific situations that are increasing the sickness of our environment. They include vast areas of pollution, waste and a throwaway culture which produces water that is unfit for human beings, a loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of human life, and global inequity.
Francis also traces the “human roots of the ecological crisis.” He says that contemporary people have not been trained to use well our newfound power: nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA. He also cites the crisis resulting from the effects of modern anthropocentrism: “The modern mind thinks about nature as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape” (LS. No.115).
However, the pope’s catalogue of such sins against nature is consistently joined in the encyclical with uplifting reminders of the spiritual underpinnings of what Pope Francis calls “A Gospel of Creation.” As pastor he continually holds up the true and hope-filled values that must motivate us despite so many depressing realities in our common home. He reminds us of the fundamental truth about creation: that it came about as the result of a divine decision; that “every creature is the object of the Father’s love.” He centers many of his reflections on the creation story as told in the Hebrew scriptures and through what he calls “the gaze of Jesus” upon our natural environment. He reminds us that modern Catholic social teaching is a sure guide in responding to the current crises.
This brings us to the Holy Father’s practical reflections on necessary responses both to the beauty of our common home and threats to it. The final chapter of Laudato si‘ is titled “Ecological Education and Spirituality.” Francis urges new, saner lifestyles, education toward a “covenant between humanity and the environment,” “ecological conversion,” and “civic and political love.” Valuable subjects for a season of Creation.
Pope Francis concludes his message to Catholics and to all who will listen: “Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption… This implies avoiding the dynamic of domination and the mere accumulation of wealth.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.