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June 28, 2015

Overview of encyclical on ecology -
Ecological spirituality -
Ecology's social perspective -
Faith convictions and ecology

1. Encyclical on our planet's future.
2. Essentials of ecological spirituality.
3. Quotes from the encyclical:
a) Climate change.
b) Rediscovering beauty.
c) Does power equal progress?
d) Ecology of daily life
e) Making a new start.
4. Ecology's social perspective.
5. Market forces and ecology.
6. Faith convictions and ecology.
7. Toward open, respectful dialogue.

1. The Encyclical on Our Planet's Future

Pope Francis appeals urgently in the long-awaited encyclical on ecology he released June 18 "for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet."

In a tone-setting statement at the encyclical's outset, the pope says:

"The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement" (5).

Again and again this encyclical calls attention to the ways care for the planet and care for all human life intertwine.

St. Francis of Assisi, whose name Pope Francis took after his election and who is a "guide and inspiration" to him, "shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace," the pope writes (10).

The encyclical's title, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," was itself inspired by St. Francis. The document's first words explain the choice of title this way:

"'Laudato Si', mi' Signore' -- 'Praise be to you, my Lord.' In the words of this beautiful canticle, St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us."

St. Francis "helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human," the encyclical says (11). And St. 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" (12).

Pope Francis views our planet today as "among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor" (2). He finds it regrettable that "many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest."

Attitudes cited by the pope that prove "obstructionist" in the search for solutions, "even on the part of believers," range all the way "from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions." What is required now, he says, is "a new and universal solidarity" (14).

The pope hopes that his encyclical, "which is now added to the body of the church's social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face" (15).

2. Essentials of Ecological Spirituality

Spirituality is basic to ecology for Christians, Pope Francis suggests in his new encyclical. For the church "the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us," the pope says (216).

He addresses ecological spirituality because he is interested in how it "can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world." He is convinced that such a lofty commitment "cannot be sustained by doctrine alone" and that the inspiration of spirituality is needed.

He comments, moreover, that "living our vocation to be protectors of God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience" (217).

The incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist point to the relationship between faith and ecology, the pope suggests. He says:

"It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures."

Pope Francis adds that "the Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within; he comes that we might find him in this world of ours." (236).

An "ancient lesson found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible" is basic to the spirituality he proposes. "It is the conviction that less is more," he writes.

In this context he encourages "a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack" (222).

Attitudes the pope regards as essential to an ecological spirituality include a grateful "recognition that the world is God's loving gift and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works," as well as a "loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion" (220).

For Pope Francis it is "no longer enough to speak only of the integrity of ecosystems." Instead, "we have to dare to speak of the integrity of human life, of the need to promote and unify all the great values."

He cautions that "once we lose our humility and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment" (224).

In the sacraments of the church, nature and supernatural life interact directly, the pope indicates. He calls the sacraments "a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life."

In the sacraments, the pope notes, "water, oil, fire and colors are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise."

Thus, "through our worship of God we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane." Notably, "encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature" (235).

3. Quotes From the Encyclical

Effects of Climate Change: "Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry." (From Laudato Si', 25)

Beauty and Self-Interested Pragmatism: "By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mind-sets really do influence our behavior." (From Laudato Si', 215)

Does Ever-Increasing Power Mean Progress? "Each age tends to have only a meager awareness of its own limitations. It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. . . . Human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint." (From Laudato Si', 105)

Ecology of Daily Life: "Given the interrelationship between living space and human behavior, those who design buildings, neighborhoods, public spaces and cities ought to draw on the various disciplines which help us to understand people's thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting. It is not enough to seek the beauty of design. More precious still is the service we offer to another kind of beauty: people's quality of life, their adaptation to the environment, encounter and mutual assistance. Here too, we see how important it is that urban planning always take into consideration the views of those who will live in these areas." (From Laudato Si', 150)

Making a New Start: "Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us." (From Laudato Si', 205)

4. Ecology's Essential Social Perspective

Concern for the environment must "be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society," (91) Pope Francis writes in his just-released encyclical.

People unaccustomed to this wedding of care for the planet to care for all people may find this theme of the encyclical surprising. Pope Francis reveals in the encyclical, however, how profoundly the accent he always places on the need for mercy toward all people is woven into the very fabric of his overall theological outlook.

"Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged," the pope states (93)

In fact, the pope holds, "disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbor, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth." The Bible makes clear that "life itself is endangered" whenever "these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land."

Because "everything is interconnected," providing care for ourselves and for "our relationships with nature" cannot be separated "from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others," he says (70).

"We should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others," Pope Francis says. He considers it essential to recognize that "some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority."

The pope adds that, "in practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights" (90).

Driving home this message, the pope writes that "a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings." He calls it "clearly inconsistent," on the one hand, to "combat trafficking in endangered species" while, on the other hand, "remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted."

That would compromise "the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment," the pope states (91).

In the mind of Pope Francis, "the natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone." He says: "If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others" (95).

5. Market Forces and the Environment

A point to bear in mind about caring for the environment is that more is needed than financial calculations of costs and benefits. Much more than the forces and workings of financial markets will be required, Pope Francis believes.

"We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals," the pope says. He asks, "Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations?"

He writes, "Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention" (190).

Moreover, he says, "the principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy." He explains:

"As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment; as long as the clearing of a forest increases production, no one calculates the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution" (195).

6. Faith Convictions and Environmental Care

"Faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters," Pope Francis says in his new encyclical. He adds:

"It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions" (64).

At the same time, the pope acknowledges that "whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone." For believers, he stresses, this "becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone" (93).

In the New Testament Christians learn not only of the "earthly Jesus and his tangible and loving relationship with the world," the pope points out. For, the New Testament also "shows him risen and glorious, present throughout creation by his universal Lordship" (100).

The creation accounts in the book of Genesis "suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself," Pope Francis says (66).

However, he states, "we are not God. The earth was here before us, and it has been given to us" (67).

The pope believes that "a spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable" because it paves the way to "worshiping earthly powers or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot" (75).

This "fragile world," which God entrusted "to human care," presents a challenge, says the pope -- the challenge "to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power" (78).

The pope also comments, however, that "God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good out of the evil we have done."

"The Spirit of God," the pope insists, "has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge" (80).

7. Toward Open, Respectful Dialogue

"The church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics," Pope Francis acknowledges in his new encyclical. But, he explains, he is "concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good" (188). Thus he encourages dialogue on many levels.

The pope points out that "the majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers." This, he comments, "should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor and building networks of respect and fraternity."

But, for example, "dialogue among the various sciences is likewise needed, since each can tend to become enclosed in its own language, while specialization leads to a certain isolation and the absolutization of its own field of knowledge." This serves as an obstacle to "confronting environmental problems effectively."

He also calls for an open, respectful dialogue "between the various ecological movements." Among these movements it is not rare to encounter "ideological conflicts," he observes. (201).

To confront the deep problems of the environment, "a global consensus is essential," since these problems "cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries," the pope writes.

The global consensus that is needed "could lead, for example, to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and ensuring universal access to drinking water," he states (164).