CARING FOR OUR COMMON HOME
Laudato Si’ Week is little noticed in much of the Catholic Church. It is barely mentioned on church websites and programs. That is not to say that the Encyclical and its effects have been forgotten. It flowed into Catholic concern for the environment that in turn built links with other groups and audiences and made us see climate change as one of the signs of the times for reflection on the Gospel.
All that is good. But seven years after the Encyclical it is still worth revisiting. In our present situation where many people face economic hardship and are anxious about such basic needs as food and shelter it is easy to retreat into our own small world and forget the larger issues that will determine the lives of our children and their descendants. Chief among these is climate change, which is already having large effects everywhere in unprecedented melting of glaciers, thousand-year floods, as well as fires and floods in Australia. And it is clear that even if we curb emissions, such disasters for those affected will occur much more often and threaten housing, water and food supplies in the future.
The genius of Laudato Si’ was to bring together the best available science, the best theology, the best reflection on economic ideologies, the broadest view of the relationships involved in human flourishing, and to hold them together in a deep spiritual vision. It did all this in speaking a language that Christians, atheists, scientists, politicians and ordinary people could understand.
Perhaps the most important contribution of Laudato Si’ to Catholic thinking about the Environment was its reference to integral ecology and its association with integral justice. It bound our treatment of the world of which we are part to our treatment of human beings. Previously many Catholics were able to see them as separate, thinking that we could use the environment for our own purposes but we needed to respond to other human beings as persons. Pope Francis drew attention to the way in which exploitation of the environment is related to the exploitation of persons, so that the slums within which the poor are compelled to live in unjust societies are intimately related to the destruction of the natural world and to the polluting of waterways and the air. Respect for the natural world and for each human being go together. We are related to our world in a network of relationships that are interlocking, so that respect needs to be given both to people and to our environment.
The restrictions on the economy after Covid, the social pressures on governments to act slowly in reducing emissions, and the greenwashing and other forms of resistance to action necessary to reduce emissions make it helpful to return to Pope Francis’ document today. Going soft on emissions will mean our descendants will do it hard as a result of our failure to care for the world we leave to them. Laudato Si’ encourages us to keep faithful.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ
Feature photo by Pat Whelen on Pexels.