For many years now, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been deeply engaged in issues of ecology and care for the earth.
We can point to the innovative efforts of our Creation Sustainability Ministry. We can also point to the many parishes and individuals who promote environmental awareness and work to protect our communities — especially poor and minority communities — from the impact of pollution and environmental degradation.
So for me, and I know for many of you, Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be”), Pope Francis’ new encyclical on care of the earth is a welcome and challenging resource.
I am continuing to reflect on the letter. And as I do, I am struck by the wide range of the pope’s concerns. Here is just a random sample of issues the pope believes are important to understanding the environmental crisis of our times: “the noise and distractions of information overload”; access to clean drinking water; the crisis of hope in a “better tomorrow”; “the myth of progress”; modern architecture; the “culture of relativism”; drug abuse in rich countries; the need to accept “one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity” and how it is “not healthy to cancel out sexual difference”; the diversity of species; rising sea levels; global inequality.
The pope’s tone is urgent and passionate. He writes with a prophet’s eye for injustice: “Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called ‘safer’ areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.”
The political content of the letter is what the media has focused on — Pope Francis’ belief that world’s governments and international agencies must take concrete steps to address global climate change.
It is true that in this and other areas, Laudato Si’ moves beyond moral analysis to draw conclusions about scientific evidence and offer specific policy recommendations on issues such as buying and selling “carbon credits” (the pope calls this “a ploy” that rich countries use to protect their wealth).
Pope Francis’ proposals will be debated and should be studied in the spirit that he offers them. “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics,” he writes. “But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”
For me, Laudato Si’ should be read not only as a work of Catholic social teaching, but also as an example of the new evangelization.
The letter reflects a profound confidence and openness to the world. Pope Francis draws on an ecumenical and interdisciplinary range of authorities — from scientists, saints and theologians to international agencies; from other world religious leaders to previous popes and Catholic bishops conferences in every continent; he even quotes a Sufi mystic in one of his footnotes.
Pope Francis understands that in the modern world, the Church’s message needs a new hearing, a fresh presentation rooted in the concrete realities of our times.
He understands that the Gospel and the Church have no necessary authority in today’s secular society, in which the idea of God is either rejected or irrelevant. “Theological and philosophical reflections on the situation of humanity and the world can sound tiresome and abstract,” he acknowledges.
That’s why the Pope does not mention the name of Jesus until he is almost 13,000 words into his long document. But “the gaze of Jesus” is at the heart of the pope’s vision in Laudato Si’, even if he is rarely mentioned.
In my opinion, Pope Francis in this document is laying the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration.
In passages filled with quotations from the Gospel, the Pope writes of Jesus as a man of work and a man who “lived in full harmony with all creation.”
“In talking with his disciples,” the pope writes, “with moving tenderness he would remind them that each one of them is important in God’s eyes. … As he made his way throughout the land, he often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things.”
And in the name of Jesus, Pope Francis is issuing a call to conversion — a call for all of us to look at the earth and all its creatures with the eyes of Jesus.
Because “the earthly Jesus” is also the Creator and Lord of the universe, the world has been transfigured. The pope writes: “Thus, the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise, because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.”
So this week, let’s pray for one another and let's ask God to open our eyes to the beauty of the world. And let's keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Charleston, South Carolina. Let's pray for the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church and their families and let us pray harder and work harder to put an end to racism in our country and gun violence in our communities.
And may our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of All Creation, help us to love the world that God has given us, and especially to see the great dignity of every human life.