Laudato Si’ Reflections, Homilies, and Deep Dive Series Starts with Fr. John Leydon

June 25, 2015

In 1992, the leaders of the world met in Rio de Janerio to discuss the problem the world was facing: Global Warming. They identified the cause: the build up of Green House Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. They also identified the solution:  reduction of GHGs, notably carbon from fossil fuels. So 23 years later, we ask ourselves, “by how much did we actually reduce?” The answer: “we didn’t!”  Instead of reducing we have increased our rate of output by 50% and the rate of increase continues to speed up.

What is going on here?  The image of the Addict throws some light on the situation.  The addict knows that taking drugs is disastrous for him or her but seems powerless to do anything about it. That seems to be us. Every year since Rio, the nations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have met and instead of doing something have regressed with regard to a solution.

The Addict needs a miracle which often comes in the form of a ‘wake up’ call, or by ‘hitting the bottom’.  Meanwhile we have experienced all the predicted outcomes of Global Warming: super typhoons, storms, hurricanes, droughts, flooding, heat waves, crop failures and many more ‘wake up’ calls, but we still seem to be sinking deeper into crisis.

The situation is even worse. There are very wealthy people making lots of money out of the crisis. Furthermore they use their money to influence politicians who are supposed to be making the urgent decisions. They have similar influence on media, ‘Climate Change’ cannot be mentioned in weather reports, only ‘extreme weather conditions’ and they deliberately sow doubt about whether there even is a problem. It’s as if the house is on fire and even with the smoke in our eyes we cannot say it is on fire because not everybody agrees!

We need a miracle.

Maybe the miracle has happened! On Thursday June 18, Pope Francis issued an encyclical, Laudato Si (Praise be to You), On Care for Our Common Home.  It is the first encyclical by a pope on ecology and climate change.  It names the problem, analyzes the causes of our problem, and calls us to action.  It is not a day too late.

The first thing that strikes me about the encyclical is its timing and intent. Pope Francis deliberately issued it now to influence the next UNFCCC meeting in Paris in December 2015. This is a miracle of timing that is recognized, not only by Catholics, but more so, by the worldwide ecological movement, which has laboured for many years, and has often felt like a “voice crying in the wilderness.”

The second thing that strikes me is Francis’ call to change our view of creation. He points out that our modern way of looking at the world – as if it has no intrinsic worth or meaning – is at the heart of our problem.  He calls this “the technocratic paradigm” (106).  Instead he brings us back to the vision of Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and of course St. Francis where creation was seen as revealing the Creator. This is a throwback to an ancient dispute between two schools of philosophy: Realism and Nominalism.  Aquinas and the realists claimed that God is revealed in creation and therefore there were two sources of revelation: scripture and nature. This was often expressed in drawings on the pulpit, in those times, with the book representing Scripture and the branch representing Creation. The nominalists insisted that God could only be known through scripture. Francis takes a clear stand on this: “We can say that “alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scriptures, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of the night” (85). He elaborates further on this in paragraph 86.

This shift has tremendous implications for the way that we relate to creation.

The core of the encyclical is about relating, and for me its strength is the view it takes on ‘interconnectivity’.  What’s impressive is the scope:  our interrelatedness includes all of humanity especially the poor and even future generations, all of creation, and of course our Creator.

Finally, of course there are many practical suggestions like the need to replace fossil fuels (165).  But Pope Francis is not content to deal with the problem at that level only. Following on St. John Paul II, he points out the need for “ecological conversion”:  “For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” (217)

The gospel, on the Sunday following the publication of the encyclical, was the story of Jesus’ disciples being caught in a storm, in danger of going under, and Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat. That scene depicts our situation over the past 23 years. The disciples needed a miracle and they got one. We need a miracle and, in Laudato Si, I pray that we have also got one.   As I read the encyclical the line of a song from Paul Simon was playing in my head:  “This is the age of miracles and wonder…” Let’s hope we have the gift of faith to recognize the miracle that is Pope Francis and Laudato Si.