“Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with the convictions of believers?” —Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
Although Laudato Si’ as a whole is an encyclical letter addressed to “every living person on the planet” Christian and non-Christian alike, in chapter 2, Pope Francis pauses to focus on “believers” to explain and to offer evidence that our motivation to care for the earth can and should be easily be found in our Christian faith (Paragraph 3). He sets out to clearly teach us why caring for creation is not only a good thing for us to do, but a responsibility and obligation.
Understanding Pope Francis’ on “The Gospel of Creation, The Light Offered by Faith”
Because the ecological crisis is complex, Pope Francis tell us in paragraph 63 that there is more than one way to understand and initiate change and when doing so, we have to respect everyone and their differences, including their religious beliefs. In fact he says, “no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out” if we want to make a real and lasting change to the damage we have already done to the world.
Then in paragraph 64, he pointedly tells us what to expect from this chapter. He quotes Pope John Paul II when making his point by saying, “Christians in their turn ‘realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.’ It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions.”
Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace 1990
Before we go further into Laudato Si’, I want to look a little closer at Pope John Paul II’s World Peace Day message from 1990. Laudato Si’ is loaded with references to teachings by Popes and Christian leaders that came long before Pope Francis and he gives them credit for the foundation they have built for us. The deeper we go into Laudato Si’, the more apparent it becomes that this encyclical on the Christian responsibility for the earth didn’t start with Pope Francis in 2015. In fact, this document by Pope John Paul II is a perfect example.
John Paul II wrote this message over 25 years ago and it is even more relevant now than it was then. At that time widespread ecological concern was just starting to take root and he wrote this message titled, “Peace with God the creator, peace with all of creation” to encourage us to develop our concern into real and lasting change and ecological programs.
His message starts with the creation story and the revelation in Genesis 1-3 that after God created, He “saw” and proclaimed everything he had made “good.” By including our first parents Adam and Eve in his plans for creation, God set them apart from all other creatures (being made in His image and likeness) and called them to care for it with “wisdom and love.”
But what did they do? They chose rebellion and sin. Their choice to turn against God set the path for “earth’s ‘rebellion’ against him” and the decay of both man and the earth began. The good news? We as Christians believe that the Good News of Christ’s reconciliation of man on the cross released us from the bondage of our parent’s first sin and “creation was made new.”
Pope John Paul II shared this quick reminder of our creation, fall, and redemption because it “helps us to understand better the relationship between human activity and the whole of creation.” He wants us to directly see what happens when we turn away from the plan of creation — disorder and repercussions on ourselves and on the rest of the world.
The Ecological Crisis is a Moral Issue
The Pope lays this out for us to make the point the “the ecological crisis is a moral issue.” It is an issue where human dignity must be respected, a safe environment must be protected as a right and modern society must change its lifestyle.
Here are a few quotes that sum up Pope John Paul II’s thoughts on ecology being a moral issue:
“The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution.”
“It must also be said that the proper ecological balance will not be found without directly addressing the structural forms of poverty that exist throughout the world.”
“Modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyle. If an appreciation of the value of the human person and of human life is lacking, we will also lose interest in others and in the earth itself.”
Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.”
“A true education in responsibility entails a genuine conversion in ways of thought and behavior.”
When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can understand better the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations.”
Pope John Paul II then concludes his message of peace with, “I should like to address directly my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church, in order to remind them of their serious obligation to care for all of creation. The commitment of believers to a healthy environment for everyone stems directly from their belief in God the Creator, from their recognition of the effects of original and personal sin, and from the certainty of having been redeemed by Christ. Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God.”
Next time we will begin to look at Pope Francis’ evidence for our obligation as Christians in the section of Laudato Si’ titled, “The Wisdom of the Biblical Accounts.” In the meantime, if you have a few minutes, I hope you will also take a look at the whole of JPII’s 1990 World Day of Peace message. For a short document, he makes his point boldly and it is a good foundation for what we can expect in the remainder of Chapter 2.