Today, we continue our community conversation on Pope Francis's newly released encyclical On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si'). For instructions on how to participate, an overview of the chapters, and information on how to download or purchase the encyclical, visit the Laudato Si' landing page here at CatholicMom.com. ! Lisa Hendey
Chapter One: What Is Happening to Our Common Home?
Today, Susan Bailey and Allison Gingras reflect upon Chapter One.
I normally don’t read papal encyclicals for fear I won’t understand them. The storm of controversy that has risen from Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, caused me to reconsider.
Having read other writings by the pope, I felt confident I could grasp what he was saying. Pope Francis has a writing style that is quite accessible while being rich with meaning.
I knew too that the media would not understand his message and I was right, reducing the encyclical to a political document about global warming (which is only part of the story). The pundits are having a field day with it, one side crowing victory (while selectively ignoring certain portions) while the other laments and condemns.
Our world today is obsessed with the idea of parsing, separating, compartmentalizing, fragmenting, and in many cases marginalizing humanity into demographics, political affiliations, sex, religion, rich and poor. This behavior governs the way we use that which God created—rather than cherish the earth like a precious gift to be cared for, we use it as a commodity to do with as we please, with no consideration of how those actions will affect the ecosystem and, future generations.
In essence, humanity continues to separate itself from God with a vengeance.
Laudato Si seeks to address this fragmentation with a strong message of unity and interconnectedness. This is not just a document about global warming, ecology and the poor--this is a document about the consequences of sin.
The word “sin” is never used in this chapter but it is obvious when you look at the whole just what Pope Francis is saying. While the dictionary defines sin as a transgression, in fact, it’s more about creating separation, a breaking apart of the whole. Our first parents’ sin was not simply disobeying God’s command; they were openly declaring themselves to be equal to God, thus turning away from him. The perfect relationship with the Creator was broken and the result was the introduction of death into the world.
That first sin began a domino effect of still more sin resulting in a dire breakdown in human relationships (beginning with Cain slaying Abel).
Pope Francis lays out a compelling argument on the consequences of sin in our world by first reminding us that we are all connected, not to just each other, but to all creation:
“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” Chapter 1-42.
To understand just how interwoven all creation is, consider the food chain: What happens when the first element of that chain is disrupted? Does it not ripple through the entire chain? We’d all love to wipe out mosquitos but then what would the consequence be for those animals dependent upon what we consider to be a pest? Would it affect us? Science would say “yes” and Pope Francis agrees.
There is far too much in Chapter One to address in this short post. I encourage you to read it and see the thread of connection that runs through the Pope’s argument. I know one thing: I did not buy the argument of global warming before I read it, mainly because of the way the argument is presented. Having read this chapter, I am changing my way of thinking on it. For one thing, I know that my own personal actions have consequences and I need to consider changing the way I treat others and the world around me.
A “neologism” is defined as the coining of a new word or expression. As I begin reading Laudato Si, it was hard not to notice a new word introduced by Pope Francis - “Rapidification”. This word cleverly expresses the speed and state of the current world.
Pope Francis reminds us of pollution and climate change, a subject for many years, I was largely distanced from living in very rural America. In November of 2009, my husband and I traveled to China to adopt our daughter. Our trip to China was incredibly enlightening. We were there for just over 2 weeks and we saw blue skies just once moments after a midday rainstorm. We were actually caught in that storm and my daughter’s white shirt turned gray and stained where it had been soaked by the rain. The rest of our visit, in all three locations of the east coast of China, the sky was filled with smog. I suffered from environmental allergies and a cough there and for months after we returned home. In Wuhan, our hotel room over looked the Yangtzee river, colored a murky shade of chocolate milk, with many objects floating along in it. We share this world, but until we visit more than my small corner it can be difficult to recognize that fact.
As I recollected my images of the river and read Pope Francis’ words, warning of the dangers of being a “throw away culture”, there was a twinge in my own heart as I recognized my own behavior. We are not handy in our house; we are most likely to buy new instead of trying to repair. We rationalize by saying we are helping the economy but have we really counted the cost. I am a terrible consumer, especially when it comes to food shopping and meal planning which leads to discarding of food. This is an area I immediately amended, after I read, “throwing away food is like stealing from the poor”. This is not the clean your plate club, this is much more – a mindful consumption of resources starting with our choices in the supermarket.
The cautioning of pollution and climate change leading to an “increase extreme weather” also hit close to home, literally as I considered how our Northeast summer forecasts now regularly include Tornado warnings and this winter we had over 5 feet of snow in less than 2 months! At one point I was unable to back out of my driveway because I could not see over the snow banks. I had to kick my 16 year old son out of the car to act as traffic control. I may want to disregard what Pope Francis is exhorting us to consider in chapter one but personal experience sure makes that much more difficult.
“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.” My small world view truly needs to change, even after my world travels including touring the slums of Rio during World Youth Day, I can still be foolishly unaware. Pope Francis’ words however are hopeful; reminding us it is not too late. We can make significant and efficacious changes in emissions to benefit the home we share, would it not act much like the reverse effects on a person’s lungs when they quit smoking.
“Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.”
Questions to ponder:
- What was your first impression of Chapter One of Laudato Si? Was it what you expected? Did it disturb you and if so, how?
- What specific actions can you take to become a better steward of the world around you? Do you see your actions affecting others? How?
What experiences in your life have helped you to have a more global picture of the world of our common home?
Are there steps we can take to do our part to address the issues Pope Francis outlines in Chapter One?
Next week, we will read and reflect upon Chapter Two of Laudato Si’. For more information on this conversation, visit our Laudato Si' landing page.
Copyright 2015 Susan Bailey and Allison Gingras
Image credit: Bessi, Pixabay, Public domain
About the Author
Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com, a bestselling author and an international speaker. A frequent radio and television guest, Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and communications. Visit Lisa at LisaHendey.com or on social media @LisaHendey for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish, school or organization. Visit Lisa's author page on Amazon.com.