Pope Francis second Encyclical is entitled Praise be to you, my Lord or On Care for Our Common Home which I am sure this teaching will be known. For many of us encyclicals and papal letters are are known by their Latin names (Populorum Progressio, Octogesima Adveniens etc) so in this case Laudato si . The central question posed by Francis: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (no. 160).
I love the way Francis refers to our common patrimony, the earth. Much like the man from Assisi of the 13th century, he speaks in relational terms. He refers to the earth as “our sister.” Right off the bat he lays out the harm which humans have inflicted on the earth.
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). 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.
Francis deeply understands what economic fundamentalists such as Stephen Harper simply does not get, namely that the environment is the primal economy, the basis of all our human and non-human life. Destroy the base and nothing else matters.As the great cosmologist Tom Berry reminds us,”our real threat is from the retaliatory powers of the abused earth, not from other nations.”
The Harpers of this world are captured by one dimensional and destructive thinking of GDP and wealth production(in our case Tar Sands oil) a closed system of commercial transactions, production an exchange of goods. This is the blindness of contemporary neoliberal economics. It absolutely fails to understand that the earth and its life giving sources are primary, not secondary to runaway wealth creation. What is the pricer of earth, air and water?Instead of GDP we need to worry about Gross Earth Deficit, how our industrial economy is closing down the planet.
This is a brilliant start which should challenge somnolent pastors into action and give great hope to those who have laboured long and hard trying to bring sanity to an industrial world out of control. Catholic pastors, by and large, right now, are totally out of the gospel loop. Few have understood that they must hitch their narrow parish wagons to movements beyond their heretofore narrow parish concerns. Each parish in this country should unashamedly have a ginger group of committed activists linked to the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club ,350.org all organizations which have been doing the heavy lifting in the defense of the earth.
Many young Catholics have become so disenchanted by a church which has become so depoliticized, so abstract in its commitment to our common struggle that they have left in droves.Pope Francis may give them confidence that they have been right all along, that their church has been woefully behind the call of the Master to see that “thy will be done on earth”. This includes our defense of creation, the greatest moral challenge of this century.