Monday, 29 June 2015

Sin and faith: the gift of Christian identity

Ged quinn felix culpa s

A couple of weeks ago, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave an interview to EWTN during which he displayed great patience in the face of persistently being misunderstood (or willfully misrepresented?) by his interviewer. Why do I bring this up? Because, in the course of that interview, in a moment of exasperation, Cardinal Kasper presented the following, beautiful synthesis of how the Church needs to be a sacrament - i.e., sign and instrument - of mercy, which he derived from Jesus’ self-sacrifice having been in response to a rejection by his people:
“[M]arriage is an icon, an image of the alliance of God with his people. And notice that in Holy Scripture, how often the people of God abandoned him … And also Jesus was rejected by his people. He substituted himself [for them], went to the cross, g[a]ve them a chance. And before he went on Easter Eve he [...] gave the Church, his apostles, the authority to forgive or not to forgive, to bind and to loose [cf. Matthew 18:18]. And all this, this is also a sign of mercy. It is not only the category of human justice you can apply here. You must, the Church must, act according to the action of God and God’s mercy, and the Church is sacrament of mercy. It means sign and instrument of the mercy of God. That’s our Catholic understanding of the Church. And if God gives, acts in this way, the Church can do it also.”
That Jesus gave his disciples the authority both to impose and abolish what the Church is to do and not do, to believe and not believe, to denounce and to value, is not just a turn of phrase to illustrate the completeness of passing “power of attorney” to His followers, members of His mystical body, but an imperative to keep her teaching be a means to union with Him in every present moment. Kasper prefixing the above reminder of Matthew 18:18 with a spelling out of the fact that even at the pinnacle of His love for us, at the moment of his loving self-sacrifice, Jesus was rejected by his people, is no accident either and, to my mind, serves as a stark reminder that the goods that the Church gives access to in the name of her head are not rewards, addressed to those who fully comply with her teaching, but expressions of His gratuitous, wholly undeserved and merciful self-giving.

As I kept returning to delighting in and thinking about Cardinal Kasper’s words, Pope Francis (five days later) chose the question of Christian identity (which is implicit in Kasper’s reasoning) during a morning homily at Santa Marta. Note also that identity is a key prerequisite to dialogue for Francis.

The angle chosen by Francis that day was that “sin is part of our identity,” that we are “sinners, but sinners with faith in Jesus Christ,” and that “it is God who gives us this identity as a gift.” Saying that sin is integral to our identity - an identity given to us by God as a gift - struck me as a rather stark claim (though one that immediately made me think of the “felix culpa” of the Easter Vigil liturgy). Placing it alongside Cardinal Kasper’s thoughts, it seemed to me that it is the key to understanding not only the idea of a Christianity that needs to go out and be prepared to get hurt in the process, which Pope Francis spoke about also in Evangelii Gaudium (§49), but also to the centrality that mercy has in Francis’ teaching.

Before going any further, let’s look at Pope Francis’ words in more detail in terms of what constitutes Christian identity:1
“We too must traverse a long journey during our lives, so that this Christian identity may be strong, so that we may give witness. It is a journey which we can defined as being from ambiguity to true identity.

It’s true, there is sin, and sin makes us fall, but we have the Lord’s strength to get up and proceed with our identity. But I would also say that sin is part of our identity: we are sinners, but sinners with faith in Jesus Christ. It is not only a faith of understanding, no. It’s a faith that is a gift from God and that entered us from God. It is God himself who confirms us in Christ. And he has anointed us, he has impressed his seal in us, he has given us the down payment, the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts. It is God who gives us this gift of identity.

It is essential to be faithful to this Christian identity and to let the Holy Spirit, who is precisely the guarantee, the pledge in our hearts, to bring us forward in life. We are not people who follow a philosophy; we are anointed and have the guarantee of the Spirit.

Ours is a beautiful identity that shows itself in witness. It is because of this that Jesus speaks of witness as the language of our Christian identity. And this is so even though Christian identity, since we are sinners, is being tempted, will be tempted; temptations always come and our identity can weaken and can be lost.”
Pope Francis describing himself as a sinner since the very beginning of this pontificate is not some humble-bragging, but a reminder that sin, weakness, failure are intrinsic to what it is to be human. It is also central to what it means to be Christian. We are not perfect, flawless, wholly-compliant, but addled with sin, with failure, with imperfection. What Pope Francis points out though in the above homily is that these flaws are not a source of resignation or pessimism, something that ought to trouble us, or something to be denied, but instead a basis for being open to God’s merciful love. I am a sinner, someone who gives in to temptation, who fails to love, who makes mistakes, but I know that I am loved by God and I entrust myself to Him and give space to him so that he may lead me - with all my flaws - ever closer to Himself.

This is in stark contrast to a position that seems to, at least implicitly, underlie the thought processes of many who oppose openness to all, regardless of their closeness to the Church’s teaching, and who seem to be operating on the assumption that participation in the life of the Church has perfection as a prerequisite. Failure here is a personal weakness that disqualifies one from participating in the mystical body of Christ and that needs to be overcome before re-integration can take place. Here the Church is an association of the flawless and of the self-sufficient.

This is not a Church I recognize, and neither is this the Church that presents herself in the Catechism. Already the Gospel is characterized there as “the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” (§1846), which is followed by declaring that ““You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacrament of redemption”. Next, sin is presented as undeniably part of us, and its recognition in oneself as a precursor to mercy:
“To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”” (§1847)
And St. Paul goes even further, by correlating grace with sin:
“As St. Paul affirms, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” But to do its work grace must uncover sin so as to convert our hearts and bestow on us “righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it, God, by his Word and by his Spirit, casts a living light on sin: Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man’s inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Thus in this “convincing concerning sin” we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. The Spirit of truth is the Consoler.” (§1848)
Truth, recognizing our sinfulness, is followed by God’s merciful action and His gift of redemption, which as Cardinal Kasper stated so clearly, the Catechism too links to the pinnacle of Jesus’ loving self-sacrifice:
“It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal—so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world,the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.” (§1851)
A recognition of my sinfulness is no guilt-ridden pessimism, but instead a source of joy, since God’s love exceeds whatever flaws I have and envelops me, all of my brothers and sisters and the whole of creation. My flaws are an invitation to be merciful to all, regardless of their beliefs or way of life, since they are loved by God just as much as I am.

O felix culpa!



1 Since the quotes from Pope Francis homily were much more extensive in the Italian account that day, the following is my, crude translation of that text, rather than the official English text by Vatican Radio.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Synod15: the joy of feeling loved

Emmaus arcabas

Today saw the publication of the “instrumentum laboris” (working document) that will be used in preparation for this October’s Synod on the Family and that incorporates answers from around the world to the questionnaire put forward at the end of last year’s Synod. The document is 21K words long, only available in Italian so far and reproduces the “lineamenta” (directives for the work to be done between the two synods on the family) of last year’s Synod in their entirety. As a result, the following will focus on those of the 147 paragraphs of the “instrumentum laboris” that differ from the 61 paragraphs of the “lineamenta” and the English wording here will be my own, crude translation.

The first part of the text is entitled “Listening to the challenges of the family,” which presents a rather pessimistic view of the current state of the family, starting with the following statement:
“Only a minority live, support and put forward the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, recognizing in it the goodness of God’s creative plan. Marriages, religious or not, are on the decrease and the number of separations and divorces is growing.” (§7)
The following sections the speak about the a variety of challenges, from cultural (where differences between men and women are not understood and instead denied), to social, economic and political ones (where insufficient support for the life of the family is bemoaned). The particular difficulties following from solitude, old age, the last stages of life and bereavement, disability and migration are also profiled.

The many difficulties related to the unequal treatment of women are then spelled out in §30:
“Many have observed that the processes of the emancipation of women have brought their role in the growth of the family and society to the fore. It remains true, however, that the status of women in the world is subject to large differences resulting primarily from cultural factors. It ought not be thought that problematic situations could be resolved simply by an end to difficult economic conditions and the arrival of modern culture, as evidenced by the difficult conditions of women in various countries that have recently become developed.

In western countries, the emancipation of women requires a rethinking of the duties of spouses in their reciprocity and common responsibility for family life. In developing countries, the exploitation and violence perpetrated against women’s bodies is supplemented by onerous tasks imposed on them even during pregnancy, as well as forced abortions and sterilizations, not to mention the extremely negative practices connected with procreation (for example, the renting of a uterus or the market in embryonic gametes). In advanced countries, the desire for a child “at all costs” has not resulted in happier or stronger family, but has in many cases actually exacerbated the inequality between women and men. The sterility of a woman is, according to the prejudices present in various cultures, a socially discriminating condition.

What could contribute to a more decisive role of women would also be a greater recognition of their responsibilities in the Church: their involvement in decision-making; their participation, not only formal, in the government of some institutions; their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers.”
The first part of the “instrumentum laboris” concludes with remarks on bioethics, the need for formation about affectivity and the importance of bearing in mind that even those “far” from the life of the Church are “persons loved by God” and that all ought to be looked upon with understanding (§36).

The second part of the text is entitled “Discernment of the call to family life”, where a lack of knowledge of Scripture and its reading in the family is first noted with concern. The value of indissolubility is then emphasizes:
“The witness of couples who live Christian marriage in its fullness highlights the value of this indissoluble union and awakens the desire to embark on ever new paths of marital fidelity. Indissolubility is a person’s response to a deep desire for mutual and enduring love: a love that is “forever” and that becomes choice and self-giving of each spouse to the other, of the couple towards God and towards all those whom God entrusts to them.” (§42)
The unitive and procreative character of marriage, of the family being in the image of the Trinity, the missionary character of the family, prayer in the family and the importance of catechesis are addressed next, followed by a call to emphasizing the joy that springs from the life of a family:
“The joy of a person is an expression of their full realization. To present the unique joy that comes from the union of spouses and the establishment of a new family, it is beneficial to show the family as a place of personal, gratuitous relationships, unlike those in other social groupings. Mutual and gratuitous giving, being the origin of life and a place where all members are cared for, from the youngest to the elderly, are just some of aspects that make the family unique in its beauty. It is important let the idea grow that marriage is a choice for life that does not limit our existence, but makes it richer and fuller, even in difficulties.” (§55)
A call is next made for a greater appreciation of the value of marriage and of a recognition of the good in the life of unmarried couples who may be on the road towards sacramental marriage:
“The Church is aware of the high profile of the mystery of marriage between man and woman. [...] The seriousness of adhering to it and the courage that it requires ought to be appreciated in a particular way today, when the value of this inspiration, which covers all the relationships built by a family, is called into question, or even censored and removed.

Therefore, even in the case where the decision to proceed to sacramental marriage by cohabiting or civilly married couples is still in an immature, virtual or early state, or only a gradual approximation, it is asked that the Church does not shirk from the task of encouraging and supporting such development. At the same time, it would be good if the Church showed appreciation and friendship with regard to the commitments already made, where she ought to recognize elements that are consistent with the plan of God for his creation.” (§57)
This need for welcoming those who are potentially on a journey towards an understanding and practice of marriage shared with the Church is again emphasized in §61:
“The attitude of the faithful towards people who have not yet come to the understanding of the importance of the sacrament of marriage ought to be expressed in particular through a relationship of personal friendship, accepting the other as they are, without judging, meeting their basic needs and at the same time witnessing to the love and mercy of God. It is important to be clear about the fact that we are all weak, sinners like the others, without giving up on affirming the goodness and values of Christian marriage. Also, we ought to become aware of the fact that the family in God’s plan is not a duty, but a gift, and that today the decision to approach the sacrament is not something already given, but a step to be arrived at and goal to be achieved.”
The “instrumentum” then speaks about the fear of young people to get married, also because they see so many failed marriages, and the second part of the document concludes with the following paragraph on the relationship between mercy and truth (§68):
“For the Church this is about departing from the concrete situations of today’s families, all in need of mercy, starting with those who suffer most. In mercy, in fact, the sovereignty of God shines, with which he is faithful, time and again, to his own being, which is love (cf. 1 Jn 4: 8), and to his covenant. Mercy is the revelation of God’s loyalty and identity with himself, and therefor, at the same time, a demonstration of Christian identity. Therefore mercy does not take away anything from the truth. She herself is revealed truth and is closely linked with the fundamental truths of the faith - the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Lord - without which she would fall into nothingness. Mercy is “the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ” (MV, 25).”
The third part of the text is entitled “The mission of the family today” and it starts by identifying tenderness in the family with the tenderness of God:
“Tenderness means to give with joy and stir in the other the joy of feeling loved. It is expressed particularly in turning with exquisite attention to the limits of the other, especially when they emerge clearly. Delicacy and respect mean healing wounds and giving back hope, reviving confidence in the other. Tenderness in family relationships is the everyday virtue that helps to overcome the inner and relational conflicts. In this regard, Pope Francis invites us to reflect: “We have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.”(Homily for the Midnight Mass on the Solemnity of Christmas, December 24, 2014).” (§70)
Next, the point is made that the family is a subject of pastoral work and ought to think about the Church as “we,” and attention is paid to a point that was also very prominent during last year’s Synod, which is the need for a new language:
“The Christian message must be announced with preference for a language that will inspire hope. It is necessary to adopt communication that is clear and inviting, open, that does not moralize, judge and control, that bears witness to the Church’s moral teaching, while remaining sensitive to the conditions of each individual.

Because the Magisterium of the Church is no longer understood by many on certain topics, there is an urgent need for a language that can reach everyone, especially young people, to convey the beauty of family love and an understanding of the meaning of terms such as donation, conjugal love, fertility and procreation.” (§78)
That such hope and joy filled communication is set in a cultural context is underlined next, followed by an exposition of the concept of a “symphony of differences”:
“Starting from an observation of religious and cultural pluralism, it is hoped that the Synod will protect and enhance the image of a “symphony of differences.” It is shown that as a whole the pastoral care of marriage and family needs to value positive elements that are found in different cultural and religious experiences, which are a “praeparatio evangelica” [“preparation for the Gospel”]. Through an encounter with those who have followed a path of awareness and responsibility with regard to the authentic goods of marriage, one can establish an effective collaboration for the promotion and defense of the family.” (§83)
The following paragraphs speak about formation in the family, recognizing its currently meager state and underlining the importance of thorough and extensive preparation for marriage. Mention is also made of the importance of the role of the family in the formation of future priests and in the continuous formation of the clergy and pastoral workers. The need for accompanying newlyweds and for participating in socio-political processes that favor the family is also stressed.

Next, the “instrumentum laboris” turns to pastoral care for those who may be on a journey towards sacramental marriage and those who live in “wounded” families (“separated, divorced and not remarried, divorced and remarried, single parent families”), paying particular attention to the “art of accompaniment”:
“Many have appreciated the references of the Synod Fathers to the image of Jesus who accompanies the disciples of Emmaus. Staying close to a family as a journeying companion means, for the Church, to adopt a wise and nuanced attitude. Sometimes, we need to stay close and listen in silence; at other times, to stand in front and point to the way ahead; at yet other times, to stand behind to support and encourage. In an affectionate sharing, the Church makes her own the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of every family.” (§110)
The importance of being close to the divorced who do not remarry and of reinforcing in them the knowledge that God never abandons us is followed by an insistence on the need for speeding up procedures for recognizing marital nullity. That this also requires formation and greater numbers of tribunal staff and clear guidelines on top of which individual cases may then be approached is discussed next. After emhasizing the need for finding ways to integrate the divorced and remarried into the life of the Church, the “instrumentum laboris” speaks about the possibility of a “penitential way:”
“[T]here is broad agreement about the idea of a journey of reconciliation or penance, under the authority of the Bishop, for the divorced and civilly remarried faithful who are in irreversible cohabitation. With reference to Familiaris Consortio §84, a process is suggested of becoming aware of failure and of the wounds produced by it, and, with repentance, a verification of the possible nullity of marriage, to make a commitment to spiritual communion and a decision to live in continence.

What others mean by a penitential way instead is a process of clarification and reorientation, following the experience of failure, accompanied by a priest appointed for this purpose. This process should lead the concerned party to developing a fair assessment of their condition. This process that same priest too would develop his own assessment so as to make use of the power of binding and loosing in a manner adequate to the situation.” (§123)
The need for more coherent practice with regard to mixed marriages (i.e., among Christians) and marriages with a disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) is then stated, followed by a section on pastoral attention towards “persons with a homosexual tendency” [note the return of the word “welcomed” - for background see here :)]:
“It is reaffirmed that each person, regardless of their sexual orientation, must be respected in their dignity and welcomed with sensitivity and delicacy, both in the Church and in society. It would be desirable that diocesan pastoral plans paid specific attention to the accompaniment of families in which homosexual person live and of these same persons.” (§131)
The following paragraphs then speak about procreation, where the following passage is particularly significant:
“Bearing in mind the wealth of wisdom contained in Humanae Vitae, two poles emerge in relation to the issues it deals with there that need to be constantly balanced. On the one hand, the role of conscience, understood as God’s voice, which resounds in the human heart that has been taught to listen to it; on the other, the directions of objective morality, which prevent thinking about procreation as a reality to be decided arbitrarily, irrespective of the divine plan for human procreation. When reference to the subjective pole dominates, there is a risk of making easy, selfish choices; in the other case, moral norms are perceived as an unbearable burden, not corresponding to the needs and possibilities of the person. The combination of the two aspects, lived under the accompaniment of a competent spiritual guide, will help the spouses to make choices that are fully human and that conform to the will of the Lord.” (§137)
Next, the goodness of adoption is emphasized, followed by a reaffirmation of the insistence of the value and dignity of life from conception to natural death, and the “instrumentum laboris” concludes by underlining the challenges and importance of education in the family.

Finally the prayer to the Holy Family that Pope Francis first shared during the General Audience on 25th March 2015 is presented in preparation for this October’s Synod:
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again experience
violence, rejection and division:
May all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.

Amen.”
From a first reading, I believe that the “instrumentum laboris,” elaborated in close collaboration with Pope Francis represents only minor adjustments to the final “relatio” of last year’s Synod. Including the full text of last year’s Synod is a strong signal of continuity and the new paragraphs predominantly focus on elaborating on what was there last year. Only in few cases can the new material be seen as a nudge towards one of alternative lines of thought present during last year’s Synod. The reiteration of the “penitential way” for the remarried and divorced and the re-introduction of the word “accogliere” (“to welcome”) with regard to homosexual persons (which was there in the intermediate working document of last year’s Synod but then got removed from the final one) are - to my mind - the most prominent examples. What also permeates the document are echoes of Pope Francis’ closing speech from last year where he insisted on the Church “flinging open” her doors to all and of the need for tenderness, accompanying and personal relationships rather than the blind following of rules that have also been key themes of his pontificate.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Our Sister, Mother Earth

Klimt

Pope Francis’ much anticipated encyclical on the environment, entitled “Praised Be” (“Laudato Si’”) after the opening line of St. Francis’ canticle, starts by personifying our planet, calling her our sister and mother, and lamenting the violence we have visited on her, with whom we are one, who lives in us and who sustains us:
““Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.1

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. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
Already the above, opening paragraphs of this encyclical are worth pausing over, and before even proceeding with reflecting on its remaining 183 pages, I would like to pick up on the idea that the earth ought to be thought of as another person, instead of “just” as some inanimate matter that is alien to the human race. In fact, Pope Francis decries such an attitude towards our planet later on in Laudato si’ by quoting Romano Guardini (§115):
“[T]he technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference.”
To get a sense of the origin and nature of St. Francis’ broad use of personification when addressing not only the Earth as sister and mother, but all of creation too, let us take a look at the circumstances of his writing the Canticle of Brother Sun that Pope Francis quotes. In a profound analysis of the Canticle, Ilia Delio, O.S.F. recounts the circumstances of its writing in the spring or summer of 1225 (some 6-10 months after St. Francis received the stigmata), quoting from the Legenda perugina:
“He could no longer see in the daytime the light of day, nor at night the light of the fire, but always remained in the house and in the little cell in darkness. Moreover, he had great pain in his eyes day and night so that at hight he could scarcely rest or sleep, which was very bad for him and greatly aggravated the sickness of his eyes and his other infirmities.”
St. Francis was at a low point in the midst of this suffering and he cried out to God for help: “Lord, come to my help and look on my infirmities so that I may bear them patiently.” He then heard a voice promising him eternal happiness in the kingdom of heaven, expressed via an image in which the earth transformed into gold (still in the Legenda perugina):
“Tell me brother: if anyone were to give you for your infirmities and tribulations such a great and precious treasure that, if the whole earth were pure gold, all stones were precious stones, and all water were balsam, yet you would consider all this as nothing, and these substances as earth, stones, and water in comparison with the great and precious treasure given to you, surely you would rejoice greatly?”
To this St. Francis replied:
“That would be a great treasure, Lord, and worth seeking, truly precious and greatly to be loved and desired.”
The voice then said to him:
“Therefore, brother, rejoice, and rather be glad in your infirmities and tribulations, since henceforth you are as secure as if you were already in my kingdom.”
The next morning, St. Francis awoke, wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun and sent his fellow friars out to sing it “as minstrels of the Lord.”

What seems particularly significant to me here is that the Canticle was not the result of some euphoric lyricising, but instead the response to having received consolation from God in response to St. Francis placing his trust in Him in the midst of suffering and distress.

Beyond the circumstances of its writing, it is important to note what St. Francis’ disciple, St. Bonaventure though of the motives behind Francis’ personification of the created. The following are passages Delio quotes from Bonaventure’s Legenda maior:
“When he considered the primordial source of all things, he was filled with even more abundant piety, calling creatures, no matter how small, by the name of brother or sister, because he knew they had the same source as himself.

[...]

With a feeling of unprecedented devotion he savored in each and every creature - as in so many rivulets - that Goodness which is their fountain source ... and like the prophet David sweetly exhorted them to praise the Lord.”
St. Francis called the Earth sister and mother because both she and he share the one origin: God. Since we and all of creation share the one Father, we are all siblings - not only among members of the human race, but also in relation to all of creation, from the simplest forms of inanimate matter to lifeforms most similar to us: a worldview also highly consistent with that of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whom Pope Francis also refers to in Laudato Si’ (§83).

St. Francis tracing brotherhood and sisterhood with the Earth and with all of creation to a shared source in God is also very closely related to the intellectual visions of the Servant of God, Chiara Lubich, who in 1949 experienced insights into the life of the Trinity. There, Lubich saw the following image of how all creation proceeds from God:
“When God created, He created all things from nothing because He created them from Himself: from nothing signifies that they did not pre-exist because He alone pre-existed (but this way of speaking is inexact as in God there is no before and after). He drew them out from Himself because in creating them He died (of love), He died in love, He loved and therefore He created.

As the Word, who is the Idea of the Father, is God, analogously the ideas of things, that “ab aeterno” are in the word, are not abstract, but they are real: word within the Word.

The Father projects them — as with divergent rays — “outside Himself,” that is, in a different and new, created dimension, in which he gives to them “the Order that is Life and Love and Truth.” Therefore, in them there is the stamp of the Uncreated, of the Trinity.”
All of creation is a projection of the Word (words within the Word) “outside” of the Father, where these words (ideas) are the models, laws or forms of things, as Dr. Callan Slipper explains in an analysis of Lubich’s visions of creation. While all of creation is viewed in the above terms, consonant with St. Francis, Lubich also sees differences between the relationship that humans have with the Word (Jesus) and the relationship that the rest of creation has:
“At the end of time (and already now for God) the model of each pine tree, that is beneath each pine tree, will come into light and both the particular and the universal will be seen contemporaneously. Now the head is on High, and together with the other models, in the Word of God. [...]

The plants that we see now, for instance the pine trees, are “members” of the model pine tree [that is, various forms of the model pine tree, Lubich explains] that is in the Word and thus destined to be Word. Here too is the mystery of the Mystical Body in nature. [...]

Human beings, instead, because they are immortal, will return into the Word: son in the Son, but they will also be distinct from the Son as another son of God. Having however in themselves the whole of the Word they too will be a mirror of the Universe that is in the Word. [...]

[I]n each human being [Jesus] sees the Human Being, that is Himself, the model of humanity, likewise He already sees beneath other creatures (as the pine tree for example) the Idea, the Word, that is then part (= the whole) of Himself. The human being (made in the image of God) is the whole of Himself; the plant is part of Himself (but = to Himself and it says: humanity—its God—is greater than me).”
While every created entity has its source in God, human beings each are both particular instances of a word-idea and the whole of the Word (Jesus); the rest of creation too has its source in the Word, but in a way that only partly expresses Him. Instead of suggesting superiority, the relationships between God (Word), human beings (particular instances of the whole Word) and the rest of creation (particular instances of the partial Word), place human beings in a position of containing the rest of creation (being “mirrors of the Universe”) by being instances of the Word that is their source and destination. This particular nature of humanity is also addressed in Laudato si’, where Pope Francis highlights both the need for treating all living beings responsibly and the greater dignity of the human person that is particularly, and most perversely, violated by other humans:
“At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure. Certainly, we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others.” (§90)
I believe that the personification of creation that St. Francis used as a means for acknowledging that all of creation has the same Father as each one of us, that Chiara Lubich’s vision of the life of the Trinity clarified with even greater nuance, and that Pope Francis placed at the basis of his call for a new culture of relating to each other and to nature is a perspective that immediately brings with it a deep sense of clarity. Thinking of nature as a sibling rather than as the “mere given” that Pope Francis criticized is a great token for investing it with a whole architecture of care and affection that other mental models would struggle to bring about. And it is a perspective that was easily accessible even to my 7 and 12 year old sons, who understood what it meant as soon as I told them about it and who immediately saw that it makes sense.



1 Just because of its beauty, here is the original in St. Francis’ own, Umbrian words: «Laudato si’, mi’ Signore, per sora nostra matre Terra, la quale ne sustenta et governa, et produce diversi fructi con coloriti flori et herba.»

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Dare to turn world’s suffering into our own

St francisbanner

Pope Francis’ second encyclical, «Laudato si’» (“Praised be”) finally came out on Thursday and I would here just like to share my favorite passages from its 186 pages [everything that follows are direct quotes from it; if you can, I would very much like to encourage you to read the full 41K words instead of my pick of 9K that follow]:

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”. (§1)

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. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (§2)

[F]aced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. [...] I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home. (§3)

Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”. Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is. (§5)

[Benedict XVI] observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”. (§6)

[Patriarch Bartholomew:] As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” (§9)

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever [St. Francis] 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, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. 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 Saint 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)

[St.] Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise. (§12)

I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. (§14)

Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity. (§18)

Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. (§19)

Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others. (§20)

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. (§21)

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. [...] It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.(§23)

If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas. (§24)

Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. (§25)

One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas. (§29)

[A]ccess to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. (§30)

Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right. (§33)

[A] sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves. (§34)

Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture. (§43)

We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.(§44)

In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighbourhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. 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. (§45)

True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. (§47)

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”. (§48)

Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (§49)

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”. (§50)

The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned. In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future. The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. [...] We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference. (§52)

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. [...] Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.(§54)

It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims. War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons. (§57)

For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love. (§58)

As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen. (§59)

On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. Still, we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation; these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises, for the world’s problems cannot be analyzed or explained in isolation. There are regions now at high risk and, aside from all doomsday predictions, the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity. “If we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations”. (§61)

Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with the convictions of believers? I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated. Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both. (§62)

If the simple fact of being human moves people to care for the environment of which they are a part, Christians in their turn “realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith”. It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions. (§64)

We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23). (§67)

[T]he Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures. (§68)

The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things: “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it” (Wis 11:24). Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection. Saint Basil the Great described the Creator as “goodness without measure”, while Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves the sun and the stars”. Consequently, we can ascend from created things “to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy”. (§77)

God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs.50 His divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of creation”. The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship”. (§80)

The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things. (Against this horizon we can set the contribution of Fr Teilhard de Chardin). (§83)

The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves. (§84)

The bishops of Japan, for their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope”. This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since “for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice”. We can say that “alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night”. Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: “I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own”. (§85)

A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society. (§91)

We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”. We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”. 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)

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”. (§95)

Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Mt 8:27). His appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” (Mt 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world. Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel. Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mk 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with a special significance for our development. As Saint John Paul II taught, “by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity”. (§98)

Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications? How could we not acknowledge the work of many scientists and engineers who have provided alternatives to make development sustainable? (§102)

Valuable works of art and music now make use of new technologies. So, in the beauty intended by the one who uses new technical instruments and in the contemplation of such beauty, a quantum leap occurs, resulting in a fulfilment which is uniquely human. (§103)

Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used. We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare. In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it. (§104)

[H]uman beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint. (§105)

[T]he idea of infinite or unlimited growth [...] is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed”. (§106)

Modern anthropocentrism has paradoxically ended up prizing technical thought over reality, since “the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference”. (§115)

Our openness to others, each of whom is a “thou” capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (§119)

Since 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? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”. (§120)

The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided. (§123)

To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good. (§129)

Human creativity cannot be suppressed. If an artist cannot be stopped from using his or her creativity, neither should those who possess particular gifts for the advancement of science and technology be prevented from using their God-given talents for the service of others. We need constantly to rethink the goals, effects, overall context and ethical limits of this human activity, which is a form of power involving considerable risks. (§131)

The respect owed by faith to reason calls for close attention to what the biological sciences, through research uninfluenced by economic interests, can teach us about biological structures, their possibilities and their mutations. Any legitimate intervention will act on nature only in order “to favour its development in its own line, that of creation, as intended by God”. (§132)

Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop. This necessarily entails reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the honesty needed to question certain models of development, production and consumption. It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality. (§138)

When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. [...] We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. (§139)

Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment. (§143)

There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture. Nor can the notion of the quality of life be imposed from without, for quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each human group. (§144)

Given the interrelationship between living space and human behaviour, those who design buildings, neighbourhoods, public spaces and cities, ought to draw on the various disciplines which help us to understand people’s thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting. It is not enough to seek the beauty of design. More precious still is the service we offer to another kind of beauty: people’s quality of life, their adaptation to the environment, encounter and mutual assistance. Here too, we see how important it is that urban planning always take into consideration the views of those who will live in these areas. (§150)

It is important that the different parts of a city be well integrated and that those who live there have a sense of the whole, rather than being confined to one neighbourhood and failing to see the larger city as space which they share with others. Interventions which affect the urban or rural landscape should take into account how various elements combine to form a whole which is perceived by its inhabitants as a coherent and meaningful framework for their lives. Others will then no longer be seen as strangers, but as part of a “we” which all of us are working to create. (§151)

Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment”. (§156)

Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan. Yet the same ingenuity which has brought about enormous technological progress has so far proved incapable of finding effective ways of dealing with grave environmental and social problems worldwide. A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries. Such a consensus could lead, for example, to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and ensuring universal access to drinking water. (§164)

We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. (§165)

Some strategies for lowering pollutant gas emissions call for the internationalization of environmental costs, which would risk imposing on countries with fewer resources burdensome commitments to reducing emissions comparable to those of the more industrialized countries. Imposing such measures penalizes those countries most in need of development. A further injustice is perpetrated under the guise of protecting the environment. Here also, the poor end up paying the price. (§170)

Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention. Relations between states must be respectful of each other’s sovereignty, but must also lay down mutually agreed means of averting regional disasters which would eventually affect everyone. Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries. (§173)

What is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called “global commons”. (§174)

There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good. (§188)

Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. (§189)

Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. (§190)

A strategy for real change calls for rethinking processes in their entirety, for it is not enough to include a few superficial ecological considerations while failing to question the logic which underlies present-day culture. (§197)

It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things.141 I would add that “religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons... Is it reasonable and enlightened to dismiss certain writings simply because they arose in the context of religious belief?”142 It would be quite simplistic to think that ethical principles present themselves purely in the abstract, detached from any context. Nor does the fact that they may be couched in religious language detract from their value in public debate. The ethical principles capable of being apprehended by reason can always reappear in different guise and find expression in a variety of languages, including religious language. (§199)

The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity. Dialogue among the various sciences is likewise needed, since each can tend to become enclosed in its own language, while specialization leads to a certain isolation and the absolutization of its own field of knowledge. This prevents us from confronting environmental problems effectively. An open and respectful dialogue is also needed between the various ecological movements, among which ideological conflicts are not infrequently encountered. The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which requires patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that “realities are greater than ideas”. (§201)

Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal. (§202)

When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction. (§204)

We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other. Unless we do this, other creatures will not be recognized for their true worth; we are unconcerned about caring for things for the sake of others; we fail to set limits on ourselves in order to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings. Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society. (§208)

“[T]e relationship between a good aesthetic education and the maintenance of a healthy environment cannot be overlooked”.150 By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour. (§215)

“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast”. For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. (§217)

This conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing... and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith. (§220)

[S]obriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full. In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. (§223)

[N]o one can cultivate a sober and satisfying life without being at peace with him or herself. An adequate understanding of spirituality consists in filling out what we mean by peace, which is much more than the absence of war. Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment. An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered”. (§225)

Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms. (§230)

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. [Footnote: The [Sufi] spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas stresses from his own experience the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God. As he puts it: “Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted...”]. (§233)

Saint John of the Cross taught that all the goodness present in the realities and experiences of this world “is present in God eminently and infinitely, or more properly, in each of these sublime realities is God”.161 This is not because the finite things of this world are really divine, but because the mystic experiences the intimate connection between God and all beings, and thus feels that “all things are God”.162 Standing awestruck before a mountain, he or she cannot separate this experience from God, and perceives that the interior awe being lived has to be entrusted to the Lord: “Mountains have heights and they are plentiful, vast, beautiful, graceful, bright and fragrant. These mountains are what my Beloved is to me. Lonely valleys are quiet, pleasant, cool, shady and flowing with fresh water; in the variety of their groves and in the sweet song of the birds, they afford abundant recreation and delight to the senses, and in their solitude and silence, they refresh us and give rest. These valleys are what my Beloved is to me”. (§234)

The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.167 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. (§236)

The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. The world was created by the three Persons acting as a single divine principle, but each one of them performed this common work in accordance with his own personal property. Consequently, “when we contemplate with wonder the universe in all its grandeur and beauty, we must praise the whole Trinity”. (§238)

For Christians, believing in one God who is trinitarian communion suggests that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation. Saint Bonaventure went so far as to say that human beings, before sin, were able to see how each creature “testifies that God is three”. The reflection of the Trinity was there to be recognized in nature “when that book was open to man and our eyes had not yet become darkened”.170 The Franciscan saint teaches us that each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure, so real that it could be readily contemplated if only the human gaze were not so partial, dark and fragile. In this way, he points out to us the challenge of trying to read reality in a Trinitarian key. (§239)

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom. (§241)

At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. (§243)

In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God, for “if the world has a beginning and if it has been created, we must enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was its Creator”. Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope. (§244)