This series of teaching editorials focuses on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’ ” (On Care for Our Common Home).
At the time of the release of “Laudato Si’ ” in June of 2015, I had the opportunity, as the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to talk to the media about this wonderful encyclical and its teaching. During this briefing, I stressed a couple of things. 1) Pope Francis and his action as a pastor in calling us to care for our home, the Earth and 2) how this encyclical is grounded in what we believe as Catholics.
This series of teaching editorials will treat several related topics in more depth, but in this overview I want to emphasize these two points.
While our Holy Father engages robustly (not surprising given his training as a scientist) with both the scientific and practical aspects of the environment and our care for the earth, his primary teaching is a moral one.
Beyond all of the politics and arguments surrounding the environment, climate change, our responsibility for climate change and what particular policies we should adopt or abandon, we first have a moral call as Catholics to care for our home.
From the Book of Genesis, we hear that God spoke to the first person and gave the double command to “cultivate and care for” the earth. We seek to cultivate the earth, using all the gifts and talents we have been given in our daily work.
This cultivation of the land helps all of us prosper and helps us care for one another, for each of our families and for those who have little and depend on our generosity. As we cultivate, we also care for the earth.
Drawing extensively from the teaching of his predecessors, Pope Francis teaches that caring for the earth is necessarily bound together with our care of one another, especially the poor. In fact those who are poor experience the greatest suffering from the assaults on the environment.
The interdependency between human dignity and our care for the Earth extends from the deep respect due every human person to all living beings and to the Earth where we make our home.
“Each creature has its own purpose … and the entire material universe speaks of God’s love” (LS 84). The Pope uses the term “integral ecology” to draw our attention to a rich treasury of thought called the common good that people of faith bring with them to conversations about the human person and our environment.
He states, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (LS 229).
In “Laudato Si,’ ” the Holy Father invites us to reflect deeply on all points of human activity, whether we consider care for creation at the level of our individual choices or in the public square. The need for urgent action is clear, and he appeals to us to become “painfully aware” of what is happening to the world and “to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care” (LS 210).
Pope Francis makes it clear that we were given the earth as a gift from our Creator. It is our responsibility to avoid contributing to a culture of acquisitiveness, individualism or exploitation – what he calls a throwaway society.
Pope Francis urges us to renewed and urgent action and honest dialogue about our environment – both social and ecological. “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together” (LS 48), both of which disproportionately affect our poorest brothers and sisters.
Reflecting on inner city slums, lack of clean drinking water and a consumerism mentality, Pope Francis asks “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us?”(LS 160). This question is at the heart of this encyclical and rightfully calls us all to work harder against the challenges the human family faces today.
Genuine efforts to true dialogue will require sacrifice and the confronting of good faith disagreements, but let us be encouraged that at “the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present…He has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward” (LS 245).
I encourage you to read all of these teaching editorials and study “Laudato Si”’ if you have not had the opportunity to do so. Consider how you can help answer Pope Francis’ invitation in this encyclical to grow in responsibility towards the common home that God has entrusted to us all.
Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville