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It took several days and committed determination to work my way through Laudatio si, Pope Francis’ thorough analysis of the human/ecological crisis. The papal letter is worthy of detailed study. Various non-Catholic church groups have enthusiastically endorsed it. Francis is speaking from a scientific mind and a Christian heart to address the crisis that faces humankind worldwide.
In my opinion, the Pope has used the best available science to conclude that human activity is largely responsible for the environmental crisis. Deniers, such as Jeb Bush, say that the pope should not be mixing religion and politics; however, this very week, Republican presidential hopefuls have met with Ralph Reed in Atlanta to learn how to mix their politics with religion in the upcoming campaign. Spiritual values apparently become an impermissible mixture of religion and politics when an individual’s religion and politics disagree with what is being put forth. Economics, moral values, science, religion and politics must work together to solve the eco crisis threatens mankind and all of creation.
The major argument of the letter, which I plan to analyze more thoroughly over time, is that greed, consumerism and a throw away culture have created the crisis. Humankind has confused “dominion” over creation with the rape of natural and human resources regardless of the cost to humanity now and into the deep future. Economic domination based on greed drives decision making and impedes workable solutions to the world crisis.
The Pope casts his appeal in terms of Gospel values—love, justice (especially for the poor), and the common good of all humankind. The pope resuscitates perennial human values such as beauty:
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 every object as something to be used or abused without scruple (215).
Francis reminds us that we come to know the Creator through the “beauty of creation.” This is music to my photographer’s heart. Long accustomed to a domination based approach to photography—shooting pictures, capturing images—I have learned a new approach through my study of Thomas Merton’s photography. Christina Valtners Paintner, abbess of the monastery of the arts,” also helps me understand the very approach to creation the Pope is endorsing. All creation is a gift from God, however we want to define “God.” I no longer take photographs. Rather, I receive images which become icons of the reality they represent. I am not an objective observer with a machine called a camera. I am a human being who is immersed in creation; therefore, I am very much a part of what I am photographing and the final product reflects the subject and my personality.
Teilhard de Chardin who was ostracized by the Church died in obscurity. Chardin must be rejoicing in his grave because Francis roundly rejects the false dichotomy between matter and spirit, “Christianity does not reject matter.” (235) Francis, like his name sake, has highest regard for the material universe which embodies the Creator. Thomas Merton learned from Blake—everything is sacred. All creation reflects the glory and splendor of God. As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “The earth is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Throughout the letter, Francis is so aware of one thing. Thomas Merton put it so well, “We are already one. . . . we have to become what we are.” We are intimately related to the Creator, one another, all creatures and the material universe. This fundamental interdependence requires that we reassess on position vis a vis the material world and our interaction with that world. We are not conquerors and controllers; we are stewards of God’s creation. How we relate to creation affects our very life on this planet.
From the heights of such theological arguments so well phrased, the Pope also sounds a practical, pragmatic note:
There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of paper and plastic, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transportation and car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices (211).
Finally, the Pope sees that the “ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” (217) “Gratitude, gratuitousness, [and] a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift” are elements of conversion.