A pet peeve of mine is referring to Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), the encyclical issued by Pope Francis more than a year ago now, as if it exclusively is about the environment, as if it were an Earth Day ornament or political tract. That’s a reductionist approach for a meditation that would otherwise be a huge opportunity for renewal and outreach. Taken as a whole, it’s about being a good steward of all of creation — the entirety of gifts we have been given by God who is gratuitous in his love for us.
Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home has it all: love, marriage and, yes, the natural ecology that surrounds us and makes us.
Look around. Do you even know where the food you put in your body today came from? Do you even think about these things? Do you take getting to and fro for granted? Do you give thought to the backstory of so many encounters of the day? Do you look people in the eye? Do you inquire about their day? Do you try to leave them better than before you ran into them?
There are just so many things that get lost that we don’t even think about anymore. The pope has called this the globalization of indifference and has indicted our throwaway society. I don’t know about you, but I’m a globetrotting New Yorker, and I’m as guilty as anyone. Et tu? Many — if not most — of us are, and on many levels.
“Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” Francis writes, quoting his namesake, St. Francis, in his beautiful canticle. One cannot enter into that embrace without acknowledgement of the creator, and oneself as a creature of our maker.
Everything flows from this primary relationship and orders all others. Gratitude. Awe. Humility in the wonder of this beauty. Imagine, if we did truly operate from this song, what the world might look like. And what respect would flow for women and life and one another, in praise of our God.
After his namesake, Pope Francis, as he frequently does, quotes a litany of his predecessors on the same theme. Pope St. John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II and the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI. Where he quotes Pope John Paul II, he focuses on the need for conversion, for an authentic human ecology. An integral ecology, Francis goes on to talk about.
Quoting John Paul II from 1987, he writes: “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” (Laudato Si’, No. 9).
In these troubling, trying times, when nothing can be assumed or taken for granted, it’s only by focusing on such essential fundamentals that we will ever get anywhere toward a rebuilding and renewing.
“We are not God,” Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’. I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on this, too. Whether it be a tendency toward foolish self-reliance or an abuse of the free will God gives us, couldn’t we all take the Divine Mercy message — Jesus, I trust in you — more seriously from day to day, throughout the day? Yet again: The world would start looking quite different. All creation would benefit.
Now that the fog of initial commentary and controversy has cleared, give it a read. It might just make for a revolution of conversion.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).