In the midst of all the global turmoil of the last week, events in Charleston SC and even here at home, the Vatican released the second encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Se’
An encyclical is one of the highest forms of communication within the Roman catholic Church. At its most basic, it is a letter to the church leadership saying that in this time and place, this is a hugely important issue. It also outlines the church’s teaching on the issue. There is no debate of an encyclical. It is as if the church is saying, “Here we stand.”
Laudato Se’ is remarkable in many, many ways.
It is, without question a very political statement. At the same time, it breaks new ground by stating clearly that all our conversation about the environment (global warming, nuclear waste disposal, environmental degradation) has a spiritual component. Pope Francis is saying unequivocally that the language of faith has a place in those conversations and offers a framework for that participation.
Pope Francis makes clear that the poor and those on the margins of the global community are the ones most affected by environmental change. They bear the brunt of what happens to our environment, yet often they have no voice. That has to change.
Technology is no solution. That flies in the face of so called “dynamists”, as Ross Douthat has named them in the New York Times. Dynamists believe that all human problems can be solved by technology, there is a genius and rightness in free markets and modernity is a success story whose best days are ahead.
On the other hand, Douthat suggests that Francis is a “catastrophist” who sees a global civilization that for all its achievements is becoming more divided, more environmentally despoiling. Catastrophists say that things cannot go on as they are and that the trajectory we’re on will end in crisis and disaster.
But perhaps Francis’ biggest connection is the reminder to all of us that “we are all connected”. We are all in this together. He is most harsh towards indifference and selfishness. We cannot care for the rest of nature “if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings”.
For the first time, this encyclical is not eurocentric. The insights of bishops in the Third World are included, as is a comment from the Eastern Patriarch, Bartholomew and an ancient Sufi mystic. This is a global message for all of us.
Perhaps the best words of Francis are descriptive of our situation. We face an urgent crisis, he says, when, thanks to our actions, the earth has begun to look more and more like, “an immense pile of filth”. At the same time, there is hope. Francis reminds us that because God is with us, we can strive to change course.
As Fr. James Martin, editor of America: The National Catholic Review says, “To use religious language, what the pope is calling for is conversion.”
But are we prepared for that step? Our future as a world demands it and depends on it.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.