Laudato Si?, mi? Signore

Michael A. Hayes

Michael A. Hayes is the editor of the Pastoral Review?and President of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

?Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth?.(92)
Laudato Si?, the title of Pope Francis? encyclical on the care for the environment, is taken from the writings of the saint whose name he took on being elected Pope, St Francis of Assisi. ?Praise to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs? (1). The Pope is very clear when he says: ?this sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her? (2). Here he is echoing the fundamental principle in the Vatican Council?s document Gaudium et Spes: ?God has destined the earth and everything it contains for all peoples and all nations? (GS 69). The same theme has been addressed in various ways by his recent predecessors with Pope Benedict noting ?the misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognise any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves?(6).
For the Pope St Francis becomes a kind of beacon of hope as humanity strives to engage with these important questions: ?If we approach nature and the environment without [this] openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of St Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled? (11).
The main themes that run throughout the text are addressed from different perspectives, crisscrossing to form a unity in the document. These are: the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet; the conviction that everything in the world is connected; the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology; the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress; the value proper to each creature; the human meaning of ecology; the need for a forthright and honest debate ? a new dialogue ?about how we are shaping the future of our planet? (14); the serious responsibility of international and local policies; the throwaway culture; and the proposal of a new lifestyle.
The encyclical is set out in six chapters: ?What is happening in our common home?; ?The Gospel of Creation?; ?The roots of the ecological crisis?; ?Integral ecology?; ?Lines of approach and action?; and ?Ecological education and spirituality?. It concludes with an interreligious prayer for our earth and a Christian prayer for Creation.
It is worth noting the thrust of chapter two ?The Gospel of Creation?. While the encyclical is addressed to ?all people of good will?, the Pope is clear that the Judaeo-Christian narrative can make a significant contribution to a dialogue between science and religion ?towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity? (62). Highlighting the first creation account in Genesis the Pope outlines the relationship between human beings and the world. These accounts of creation invite all to see that each human being is a ?subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object? (81). ?The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality? (66). He suggests that there are three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth. These relationships have been ruptured by sin. The disharmony between these key relationships was brought about by the presumption of humanity to take the place of God and the refusal to acknowledge the limitations resulting from humanity distorting the biblical mandate to have dominion over the earth (Gen 1.28). The story of Cain and Abel is recalled as emphasising how Cain?s envy led to the ?ultimate injustice against his brother, which in turn ruptured the relationship between Cain and God, and between Cain and the earth from which he was banished? (70). The story of Noah and the flood is highlighted as an example of how Noah who remained innocent and just, was offered by God a new path and a new beginning for humanity. The interconnectedness of all in creation is noted in the law of the Sabbath where the Pope quotes from the Book of Leviticus: ?when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner? (Lev.19.9-10).
The destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God and this has already been attained in the risen Christ. ?All creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things? (83). The encyclical draws attention to the fact that Jesus in his dialogues with the disciples constantly invites them to recognise the paternal relationship God has with all creatures, ?are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them forgotten before God? (Lk. 12.6). For the Pope our gaze should be directed to the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, so that ?God may be everything to every one?(1Cor 15.28).
?Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love, teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe, for all things speak of you. Awaken our praise and thankfulness for every being that you made. Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined to everything that is.? From: A Christian prayer in union with creation (LS 246).