Encyclical speaks from the cosmic context of love
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si has been widely hailed for its visionary leadership. And as Francis focuses our attention on today’s most serious environmental concerns, the Pope summons us to a conversion of heart.
The encyclical is thus about much more than just the environment. It boldly places the global task of “care for our common home” into a cosmic context. It addresses precisely what is required of us; namely, to view the problem of the environment from the standpoint of a humble and generous spirituality.
The Pope asks: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.” (LS 160)
To adequately engage the issue of the environment, we have to look at it in the widest possible context of the ultimate meaning of life: “When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values.” (LS 160)
By adopting this wider spiritual perspective, Francis is going right to the heart of the matter; namely, the state of our own hearts. We can only hope to change the world if we begin to change ourselves.
Putting our hearts in the right place starts with humble, daily practices. By cultivating such personal habits, we attend to developing the right spiritual attitude that will bear greater fruit.
The Pope gives us a very concrete action plan in this regard, and I was moved in particular by this heartfelt appeal:
“One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom.
“That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.” (LS 227)
A fundamental posture of humble gratitude is what will start us off on the path to happiness. Because the problem of unhappiness in general is connected to the environment, dealing with human unhappiness is mandatory.
The Pope mentions “the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities.” (LS 113).
He explains: “There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us.
“But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life.”
Concerning this lack of depth, he gives a vivid example, citing the ugliness of modern architecture. As with the pollution inflicted on the environment, so too do we humans pollute our daily living environments with ugly buildings.
“If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony.
“Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything,” writes the Pope, returning to his earlier theme of ultimate meaning. (LS 113)
The culture that we live in will mirror our relationship with nature. Our disordered relation to the environment is inevitably reflected also in our relation to our fellow human beings:
“Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself.
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” (LS 117)
The Pope draws an unmistakable conclusion from the fact that everything is connected. Because “everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.
“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (LS 120)
Francis explores his “everything is connected” theme even further. Taking it to its ultimate conclusion, he gives us the Church’s Eucharistic vision of creation: “Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love.”
It is this cosmic love that will restore human beings to the right relationship with creation. “Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.” (LS 236)
C.S. Morrissey is an associate professor of philosophy at Catholic Pacific College.