Franciscan Ecological Wisdom

May 18th, 2020 by Dave Leave a reply »

Our Common Planetary Home

Sunday,  May 17, 2020

To mark the fifth anniversary of his encyclical Laudato Si′: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis has declared May 16–24 “Laudato Si′ Week.” [1] The Daily Meditations this week will focus on how Franciscan spirituality impels us to act in response to “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” I must admit that I am often discouraged by the minimal efforts most Christians are willing to make to care for the earth, even at this critical juncture. The pandemic has shown our willingness to make sacrifices—at least to some degree—to protect our fellow humans, but we have not shown that same willingness to make even small changes to protect or heal the earth. I hope that will change!

Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, a theologian who has studied and written extensively about Laudato Si′, urges us to heed the warnings of both science and our conscience: 

Today, our common planetary home is falling into ruin. We are on the brink of an unprecedented global challenge regarding the sustainability of our common home, which places a question mark on the future of human civilization. . . .

In the second chapter of the Gospel of John, there is a verse that the disciples attribute to Jesus as he drives out money lenders and sellers of sheep and cattle from the temple of Jerusalem: “Zeal for your house will consume me” [John 2:17). Prior to that verse Jesus tells those who are despoiling the holy place: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” [John 2:16]. . . .

Today, we could, and probably we should, understand this house as our common planetary home. It is this common home which is being despoiled and desecrated today. Significantly, our common home is also God’s own house, permeated by the Spirit of God from the dawn of creation, where the Son of God pitched his tent in the supreme event of the incarnation. It is in this common home that God co-dwells with humanity and of which we have been entrusted with stewardship, as we read in the book of Genesis [2:15]. The contemporary ecological crisis, in fact, lays bare precisely our incapacity to perceive the physical world as impregnated with divine presence. We have swapped the lofty vision of the physical world as God’s own abode, sanctified by the incarnation of the Son of God, with the one-dimensional mechanistic outlook of modernity. Accordingly, the physical world gets reduced to a mere storehouse of resources for human consumption, just real estate for market speculation. . . . Through pollution of the planet’s land, air, and waters, we have degraded our common home that is also God’s own home. We have turned this sacred abode into a marketplace.

In a situation of planetary emergency like the collapse of our planetary abode, we need to be aflame once again with the zeal for our common home. 

Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi
Monday,  May 18, 2020

I deeply appreciate the many ways Pope Francis has continued the work of Vatican II by letting in the “fresh air” of modern science and other disciplines. While new information is one of the primary ways we come to understand Reality and God more fully, that doesn’t mean we can reject the past. Alongside the excellent scientific evidence offered by Laudato Si′, Pope Francis also honors my own spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. 

10. I do not want to write this encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. [My emphasis here and below. RR] He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature, and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

11. . . . [Francis’] 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 [or brother] united to him by bonds of affection. This 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.’” [1] Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior. 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. 

12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wisdom 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20).


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