This is Part 2 in an ongoing series on Laudato Si by Pope Francis. For other posts in this series, see Series TOC. Text of Laudato Si.

A word before I begin

No, I cannot read ItalianI am not a Pollyanna. I am not overly optimistic, unable or unwilling to think critically (in the true sense of that word). I am also not someone who sees marxists and demons around every corner, though I do see them where they are, or I try to, and there are a good many more than some people like to believe. There are things in Laudato Si (properly spelled Laudato Si’; for ease in posting online I dropped the apostrophe) that I wish were not there, things that sound like the product of someone who grew up in a different culture in a different part of the world — which I addressed in a Tweet early on in my reading, or was it while reading the comments or perhaps the leaked document, I don’t remember now. Some of it sounds like the words of advisors whom I also wish were not anywhere near the Vatican. Alas, no one asked for my input or approval and those things got in. So I’m reading it carefully and offering comments as I go. I am not writing a dissertation, however, and this is not an academic exercise. I’m not an economist, a scientist, a theologian, or any other kind of -ist or -ian other than an amateur Catholic Christian apologist. I’m not a Pope Francis fangirl, nor am I overcome with rebellion, anger and angst. I am a lay Catholic, trying to see what is truly there, what he is really trying to say. In the past this has not always been easy. I want to reflect on it, and to respond as best I can.

Just so you know, I have peeked ahead and I found some things coming up that should prove heartening for any tempted to lose heart by what they’ve heard from others (oh, the things I’ve heard!) or what they’ve read for themselves, especially if they skimmed it, looking for things to confirm their worst fears. Some of those things may actually be there. For understanding, some things need the context before and after it, as well as the context of the faith as a whole. As Catholics we should know that. I expect Catholics to have the patience and understanding to ask questions and to seek answers, to calmly reflect, even to pray before, as, and after they read the words of our Holy Father, not just skim then doubt and shout. There are plenty already outside the Church who proceed in the latter mode, and I wish there were fewer within.

Is what Pope Francis is teaching really Catholic?

I’ve heard some people accuse Pope Francis of being a socialist, a communist, and worse. My favorite was the one (a Catholic, mind you) who yelled at him, using all caps, addressing the Pope directly on Twitter, accusing him of being a communist and telling him basically to keep his mouth shut and stick to religion, and — get this — he is not the ambassador to the world, then posed the question, who made him the ambassador to the world?

If you follow me on Twitter or even read the comments here and elsewhere around the web, you know that I could not let that slide.

Pope Francis actually IS ambassador to the world. He is the ambassador of Christ, the vicar of Christ on earth, and he receives that position by virtue of being the current successor to the Apostle Peter. Not ambassador to the world? Shut up and stick to religion? More ignorant comments from an alleged Catholic I simply cannot imagine. Or abide.

And so we come to the question for Part 2 of this series: Is what Pope Francis is teaching really Catholic?

Can Francis tame the modern wolf of hatred for all things human?After turning to his predecessors and to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis turns to Saint Francis beginning in paragraph 10. St. Francis is well-known and beloved both within and without the Catholic Church, but he is much misunderstood, by some in the Church, by many outside it. St. Francis would not be one of those people who loves animals more than humans, or loves animals and hates humans. He cared for ALL of creation, not just animals and including humans, and he loved God, the Creator of all those things both great and small. I would hope that people would read paragraphs 10-12 slowly and let what the Pope is saying sink in. Love creation, yes, love all creatures, yes! But love, also, mankind, and not in a general way, but each and every individual living human person. But above all, “‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”*

I have a feeling that many people skipped all these opening paragraphs. They were busy seeking their favorite heresy so they could run trumpet the news. That people would do that does not surprise me, though I was surprised by some of the people who did it. People I thought were rather more level-headed. Are there things in it that I find troubling? Yes. Will I run around screaming that the sky is falling? No.

Paragraph 11 goes further into a Franciscan integral ecology:

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.

Ah, there it is again: the emphasis on the human. The Pope never loses sight of this, even if many other people lose sight of it and even lose sight of it while they are reading the words right in front of them. Pope Francis is not talking about the ecology of radical environmentalism. If people would read on, he firmly rejects the virulently anti-human position of the radical environmental agenda. Perhaps if he had placed that section closer to the section on St. Francis, people would have noticed it. But, no, that wouldn’t have worked, they skipped the opening and probably scrolled right down to what he had to say about the climate.

In paragraph 12 Pope Francis follows St. Francis in reflecting on the book of nature, the book through which the Author Himself “speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.”

“Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20).

And this I did not know about St. Francis:

For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty.** Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

In paragraphs 13-15 Pope Francis reveals why he is writing this encyclical. He’s offering an invitation to dialogue. He’s not making a solemn pronouncement on science, which is not his proper sphere and he knows that.

 I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges… It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, 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.

I hope people read this whole section, especially the ones who say he should only talk about religion and keep his mouth shut about anything else. (See above.) These are people who have bought into the secularist notion that religion is one thing and life is another and somehow the two have nothing to do with each other. Perhaps it’s not even a secularist notion but merely a notion held by those whose minds have degenerated into such a confused tangle of slogans and anger that they cannot seriously reflect on anything any more and then charity goes out the window, too. I’m not saying that one cannot criticize other people, even a Pope. I am saying that there is a way to do so that includes listening to what the other person is trying to say, making an effort to understand. People who write reviews of things before they read them are not practicing charity or even good sense.

Here’s what I think led to the Pope writing the encyclical, based on reading what he writes here, and based on what I see happening in the world, and on what little I know of goings on at the Vatican before the encyclical was released. I think he is responding to a real current of thought going through the world, a real current that is driving people to say and think and do things that are supposed to (or are allegedly supposed to) address problems but are causing more problems instead. I think he is responding to a very real current of thought that is very loud, very powerful, and very anti-human. I think he is trying to speak to these people in a way they can hear and understand, in a way that will get their attention. I think he is trying to talk some sense into them. And Lord knows, somebody needs to. Here’s why.

This is real: The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Yes, it is a little tongue in cheek, but, in the typical anti-human fashion of confusion, it’s also a little serious. And as an example of the kind of thinking that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world, it is serious, indeed. Abortion, euthanasia, population control—all part of a mindset, a worldview, that sees human beings as the problem and not the solution, as a curse and not a blessing, a plague to be wiped out instead of a gift to be cherished. (And you don’t have to take my word for it that this is a movement gathering momentum. Do a web search for transhumanism, humanity is a plague, overpopulation, or right to die, and see for yourself.)

The reason St Francis loved creation was because he loved its CreatorAnd what is the antidote to the poison of the anti-human movement? Christ, specifically as He has been known and loved and taught by His Church for two thousand years. Christ is the answer to our questions because He is the Logos, the Word by Whom the universe was created. The world is seeking to make its own religion and that religion is radical enrivonmentalism, a religion that says there is no god but Gaia and many are the prophets who long to control us all in her name. Pope Francis is saying what the Church always has said and always must say: There is no God but God and no way to Him but through His Son and Jesus Christ is His Name. Can’t get much more Catholic than this. But many people can no longer stand to hear such words. So Pope Francis engages in what a friend of mine calls “stealth evangelization” and how I wish I had thought of that myself! (Thanks, Christopher Ziegler and Susan Fox for the conversation.)

chrisz_stealthevangelization

So now Pope Francis has situated his reflection on the world and ecology in Catholic and Franciscan tradition, the lens through which he will view what scientists present to him. Is what he teaches really Catholic? Yes. So far, so good.

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to Part 3. See you there. Peace be with you! :)

This is Part 2 in an ongoing series on Laudato Si by Pope Francis. For other posts in this series, see Series TOC. Text of Laudato Si.

Notes

*Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mk 12:29–30). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. Those words are in quotes inside of quotes because they are the words of Jesus in Mark 12:32, quoting the words of Deuteronomy 6:5, with a slight change: He added the word “mind”. He can do that. He is the Logos, after all. The Word made flesh. The Mind of God. The Understanding by which (really, by Whom) God understands Himself. (Anybody who thinks people check their minds at the door in order to become and remain Catholic needs to think again. I invite them to spend some time reading and reflecting on what Catholicism actually teaches. I invite them to learn what thinking really means.)

**Cf. THOMAS OF CELANO, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, II, 124, 165, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, New York-London-Manila, 2000, 354.

Is Francis the First Pope to Write About Ecology?

laudatosiAs I read in the opening paragraphs of Pope Francis’s Franciscan-flavored encyclical, Laudato Si, of the “sickness evident in the soil, in the water,” I could not help but remember something else I read recently: about how the many chemicals found in our water and soil, from hormones to antibiotics to all sorts of contaminants, mix together to form who knows what kind of toxic stew. Ugh. My own neighborhood wraps around a small man-made lake. I care about what I let drain into it. I care about the people and animals who live near, in, or on the lake. I cared before and even more since I became Catholic. Why? Because I have a different outlook, a different worldview now than I did have. A different anthropology, if you will. A different understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to be a disciple and a steward of God’s creation. Not that I have it all figured out, far from it. But I understand more than I did and I’m learning more every day.

Which brings me back to the encyclical. Pope Francis reminds us of something he says we have forgotten: that we are dust of the earth (Gen 2:7). Those of us who read and study Scripture probably have not forgotten it, and those of us who hear these words in the Scripture-soaked Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily prayers of the Church, have heard them many times. But how deeply do we reflect on them? Some more than others, surely. And there are those human persons who seem to have forgotten that they are human or who long to be anything but human. They seem to have reflected on the words of Genesis very little or not at all. (More on this later. Maybe Francis mentions the madness of transhumanism or gender theory in Laudato Si. I don’t know yet.)

In paragraph 3, the Pope points out that Pope Saint John XXIII addressed Pacem in Terris to the whole “Catholic world” and “to all men and women of good will”. I thought to myself, Well, that narrows the audience. Then I read the next line:

Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.

Oh, he thought of that. (By now I should be used to Popes thinking of things before I do.) Francis wants to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” When I looked online today I found some people who were willing to listen, some willing to dialogue, and many whose minds were made up about what he said before he even said it. I saw far too many of those, Catholic and otherwise, but then that’s nothing new and I expected it.

In paragraph 4 he mentions “unchecked human activity”. Please note that this does not mean “unchecked humans” or “unchecked human population”. This is not rabid environmentalist talk, though some will work hard to persuade everyone that it is, and Francis continues to quote his predecessors, showing that his concerns are not new. Pope Paul VI from his apostolic letter, Octogesima Adveniens, paragraph 21.

The environment

While the horizon of man is thus being modified according to the images that are chosen for him, another transformation is making itself felt, one which is the dramatic and unexpected consequence of human activity. Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation. Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace – pollution and refuse, new illness and absolute destructive capacity – but the human framework is no longer under man’s control, thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable. This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family.

The Christian must turn to these new perceptions in order to take on responsibility, together with the rest of men, for a destiny which from now on is shared by all.

And this from paragraph 4 of Visit Of Pope Paul Vi To The FAO On The 25th Anniversary Of Its Institution:

These problems surely are familiar to you. We have wished to evoke them briefly before you only in order to underline better the urgent need of a radical change in the conduct of humanity if it wishes to assure its survival. It took millennia for man to learn how to dominate, «to subdue the earth» according to the inspired word of the first book of the Bible (Gen. 1:28). The hour has now come for him to dominate his domination; this essential undertaking requires no less courage and dauntlessness than the conquest of nature itself. Will the prodigious progressive mastery of plant, animal and human life and the discovery of even the secrets of matter lead to anti-matter and to the explosion of death? In this decisive moment of its history, humanity hesitates, uncertain before fear and hope. Who still does not see this? The most extraordinary scientific progress, the most astounding technical feats and the most amazing economic growth, unless accompanied by authentic moral and social progress, will in the long run go against man.

In paragraph 5 Francis quotes Pope Saint John Paul II who wrote about the environment and human persons in his very first encyclical, Redemptoris Hominis, section 15, entitled “What modern man is afraid of”. It’s six paragraphs long; you can read it for yourself at the link above.

He goes on to quote from a catechesis given by John Paul II in 2001, paragraph 4:

We must therefore encourage and support the “ecological conversion” which in recent decades has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophe to which it has been heading. Man is no longer the Creator’s “steward”, but an autonomous despot, who is finally beginning to understand that he must stop at the edge of the abyss. “Another welcome sign is the growing attention being paid to the quality of life and to ecology, especially in more developed societies, where people’s expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of survival as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions” (Evangelium vitae, n. 27). At stake, then, is not only a “physical” ecology that is concerned to safeguard the habitat of the various living beings, but also a “human” ecology which makes the existence of creatures more dignified, by protecting the fundamental good of life in all its manifestations and by preparing for future generations an environment more in conformity with the Creator’s plan.

Francis quotes John Paul II several times more before moving on in paragraph 6 to quote Pope Benedict XVI several times, including this from Meeting Of The Holy Father Benedict XVI With The Clergy Of The Diocese Of Bolzano-Bressanone, in an answer to a question posed by Fr. Karl Golser:

Creation is groaning – we perceive it, we almost hear it – and awaits human beings who will preserve it in accordance with God. The brutal consumption of Creation begins where God is not, where matter is henceforth only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate demand, where the whole is merely our property and we consume it for ourselves alone. And the wasting of creation begins when we no longer recognize any need superior to our own, but see only ourselves. It begins when there is no longer any concept of life beyond death, where in this life we must grab hold of everything and possess life as intensely as possible, where we must possess all that is possible to possess.

Then Francis turns to Patriarch Bartholomew and his concerns about the “ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems”. From a lecture at the Monastery of Utstein, Norway (23 June 2003):

He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”.

So, is Pope Francis the first Pope to write about ecology? Nope. Not by a long shot.

In Part 2 we’ll begin with paragraph 10 and see how far we get. Now I’d best tend to my pack before they mutiny on me and take the car down to the lake without me. Hate when that happens. Silly dogs never put the seat back where I had it.

PS: Didn’t I say I wasn’t going to write a long commentary on the pope’s encyclical when it was finally released? Yeah, well, I wasn’t going to. Seems I just get started and before I know it, comes the time to say: this post is so long! ;) Thanks for reading. Peace be with you!

laudatosiI’m reading (yes, reading!) the ecology encyclical by Pope Francis and posting some thoughts along the way. I’ll add links to the new posts as I write them and publish them. As always, thanks for reading and peace be with you!

Posts in the series

On Reading the Encyclical, Laudato Si, Part 1 (June 18 2015)
On Reading the Encyclical, Laudato Si, Part 2 (June 23 2015)

Helpful Links

Text: http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
PDF: http://m.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si_en.pdf
Fr Z: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2015/06/good-news-about-the-new-encyclical-laudato-si/
Acton Institute: http://blog.acton.org/pope-environment
The Catholic Thing: The New Encyclical: Laudato Si by Robert Royal
Thomas L. McDonald’s live-tweets: @ThomasLMcDonald

A word of warning to the wise (though if you were wise, I don’t know why you’d be here): What I offer is not formal, theological, top mainstream-news-site-quality commentary. These are just things I’m noticing as I read. I have no scholarly pretensions or delusions. Not many, anyway. Not these days. I’m doing good to remember that there’s a new Pope, much less a new encyclical, and I just noticed that I still think of Francis as “the new Pope”.

Originally posted on June 18: I downloaded the new encyclical today and started reading it. I spent some time this morning on Twitter defending the Pope and the social and moral teachings of the Church. I decided now that, though I had planned to only write a brief post about it, I’m going to go through Laudato Si section by section and write what comes to me. Sometimes personal reflection, sometimes posting the full quote of something Pope Francis mentions, and we’ll see where this goes. I have almost no plan going forward (that pretty much sums up my life, too). As I write new entries and post them, I’ll add the links here.

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There’s a whole lotta talking and blogging going on about Pope Francis these days. And a whole lotta hand wringing and not a little name calling. And some people are actually listening to what the Pope is saying (not just to what someone says the Pope is saying) and some are actually troubling themselves to read his writing for themselves. Thanks be to God.

“Listen with the ear of your heart.” –The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Listen to the Pope. He’s not saying anything new. He’s not saying anything I haven’t heard other Popes or other priests and bishops say. For example, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen spoke about the ills of “unbridled capitalism” many years ago and said it was just as bad, just as much an error, as communism; and Pope Leo XIII wrote about these things in Rerum Novarum in 1891. Ignore the media who are determined to misunderstand and misrepresent what he says (or what any faithful Catholic says). And keep in mind, as I keep reminding myself, that Pope Francis is not Benedict XVI and he’s not John Paul II. He’s Francis and the man has his own style.

Read Evangelii Gaudium for yourself here or here. (PDF version here.)

Then check out what some actual faithful and knowledgeable Catholics say about it. I’ll add more links as I come across them.

Pope FrancisAs so many of my compatriots, I speak only English so I’m still in the process of locating, collecting and reading what I can find in translation by and about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. (And that is Pope Francis, not Pope Francis I, even though he is the first Pope named Francis. No need to distinguish him from any other Popes named Francis since there aren’t any.)

I grew up Methodist and knew absolutely nothing about Catholicism. I didn’t notice popes as they came and went. I didn’t pay attention when Pope John Paul II was elected, though he certainly caught my attention later. I paid some attention when Pope Benedict was elected but mostly I was still grieving the loss of his predecessor for whom I had developed a deep and abiding affection. And when Pope Benedict announced that he had renounced the Chair of Peter, I was truly astonished. When I watched him fly via helicopter away from the Vatican, I actually cried.

Grief morphed into hope as the time of the Conclave approached and I couldn’t stop watching and listening to the coverage provided by EWTN (and secular media when there was nothing else). After I watched the doors of the Sistine Chapel close, signaling the beginning of deliberations in earnest, my excitement began to build. By the time the white smoke was announced, I was ready to jump up and down and grab the nearest person to me for a hug. Which probably explains why the coffee shop I was sitting in, watching coverage on my iPad and listening on my phone–the coffee shop which was full when I got there–was strangely empty shortly after I heard the words, “Habemus Papam!”

Ahem.

I’d like to offer something profound in honor of our new Holy Father but my mind is nothing but a happy, excited mess right now. I can say that watching that humble, gentle man and listening to his soft, tender words, I began to feel a real affection for him. And something deeper than affection. When I realized that he was praying the Lord’s Prayer (even though he was praying in Italian; I’m still learning to say these prayers in Latin but thought I recognized the difference), I felt my heart expand in my chest and more tears came to my eyes. Our new Chief Shepherd was already leading his flock in prayer. (And that prayer was for his predecessor, Benedict XVI. When I heard that, more tears came.) Then before he gave us his blessing, he asked us to pray to the Lord for him.

I’m sure I will love this man more as time goes on. But right now it’s hard to see how this will be possible. I love him very much already. Habemus Papam! Viva il Papa!

First Pope from Latin America, First Jesuit Pope, First Pope Named Francis