“ ‘Laudato si, mi Signore’ – ‘Praise be to you, my Lord.’ “
Thus our Holy Father Francis begins his remarkable new encyclical letter to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home. Pulling out all the stops, the pope taps into the deeply attractive understanding of Francis of Assisi that our Sister, Mother Earth, “sustains and governs us.”
For those who doubt the math and science of global deterioration, the saint from Assisi points to a transcendent attitude and takes us “to the heart of what it is to be human,” notes Pope Francis. “Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers….”
Both Francises are true believers in Psalm 148: 3-5. We should be in love with every creature, in all the glorious diversity created by God. This is the radical solidarity we read about in scripture.
How does the Earth “govern us”? The pope’s letter leads us through scriptural evidence, even to the point that rest on the “seventh day” is not only meant for God and human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest.” (Ex 23:12)
Clearly, the pope writes about this harmony, “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”
Moreover, explains Francis, “When we can see God reflected in all that exists, our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them.”
I have spent most of my life pursuing Franciscan spirituality, and I couldn’t have captured these understandings better than our Jesuit pope.
Pope Francis includes thoughts of the Franciscan St. Bonaventure, the Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Carmelite St. Therese of Lisieux, among other intellectual luminaries, as he seeks to explore an ecology of daily life.
He articulately praises all of us, and invites all of us, to learn and imagine beyond our current knowledge. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, “along with other not yet discovered capacities,” he writes, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends physics and biology.
Our Mother Earth is 4.54 billion years old. In our relatively nascent human development we have not yet discovered all that is possible, or all the good that we are capable of accomplishing.
Pope Francis’ letter makes a timely case for the infinite beauty of God’s creation, in light of politics and risks to the environment. Clearly, our environment includes society, and we have much to do.
Yes, Laudato Si is a “cri de coeur” for dialogue and debate among national governments and international communities about complicated issues that are not easily solvable. We need less rhetoric and more policies that underscore our care for this planet, our common home. In the meantime, here are a few practical things we can do: live more simply; check whether we really need the “stuff” we have; enjoy the simple things, e.g., get-togethers, helping others, honing a talent; recycle; walk rather than drive; turn off the lights when we leave a room; discover God in the mystery of the universe; recharge our spiritual life with Sunday Eucharist; turn off the ubiquitous “screen” and cultivate authentic relationships; and praise God through our care of sister, mother earth. Laudato Si, mi Signore!
Truly worthwhile summer reading, “Laudato Si” concludes with prayers and is online at the Vatican website.