Pope Francis recently published a new encyclical letter about our Christian duty to be good caretakers of the world in which we live. As the Pastor of our parishes, it is my job to help you learn the content. I will be writing about this encyclical in our bulletin off and on over the next few months. The following was taken directly from the bulletin from the weekend of August 1st and 2nd, with a small adjustment. Please find the encyclical here, and read along.
Laudato Si, articles 1-6
We will now begin looking at the content of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si. If you have not read the introduction to this series you can do so by reading our bulletin from July 11 and 12. If you do not have a hard copy of the bulletin, it can be found online or through the St. Rose parish App.
I found these opening paragraphs of the encyclical very refreshing. At the end of the second article, the Pope stated, “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.” With these words, Pope Francis places humanity within the environment.
This might not sound very profound at first, but this perspective is in stark contrast to what we read about the environment from secularists. Many secular environmentalists do not view humanity as something that exists within the environment, but as an external threat to the environment. Thus, many of their solutions to protecting the environment involve reducing the number of humans. The greatest fear among them is that we are “overpopulated.”
For a truly Christian ecology, however, humanity is not to be seen as an intrinsic threat to the environment but to be seen as a part of the environment. What we truly need is not fewer people, but a greater awareness of what it means to be human. Pope Francis emphasized this by quoting Pope John Paul II, who called for the safeguarding of, “the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology (emphasis in the original).”
This human ecology refers to all of the structures that shape human life and includes political and social structures. According to John Paul, “The first and fundamental structure for “human ecology” is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person.” (Centesimus Annus 39. You would do well to read the rest of this paragraph. Click here to see the document and scroll down to article 39)
Our current political situation is deeply flawed at the present time in that care for the environment and “family values,” are competing values. For Pope Francis (and the tradition of the Catholic Church) these values cannot compete. They go hand in hand. Harming the environment harms each one of us, and harming the structure of the family actually harms the environment.
Francis emphasizes this by quoting Pope Benedict XVI in article 6. “[Pope Benedict] 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.” You might remember that Pope Benedict was widely criticized by relating sexual morality to care for the environment, but Pope Francis has supported Benedict’s position in a subtle way.
Finally, Francis ties the environment and humanity together by relating our immorality towards each other and our immorality towards the earth to the same cause. “Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.” For Pope Francis (and his predecessors) the belief that there is no objective and universally binding truth is the mindset at the root of both types of immorality.