For the past few weeks, we have been reading and discussing Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’) at my church. In the first session, we examined what is happening to our earth, e.g., pollution, climate change, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, the breakdown of society. Next, we looked at the Scriptural basis for our concern for the natural and human environment, beginning with the creation accounts in Genesis and including the perspective of Jesus toward nature and people.
Now, we are focused on the last chapter of the letter, “Ecological Education and Spirituality.” This section (paragraphs 202 – 246) is for me, the most compelling part of the message. I was aware of the terms “environmental education” and “ecology,” but reading about “ecological spirituality” and “ecological conversion” gave me a new perspective on the need for concern and action regarding the problems highlighted in this encyclical.
I would like to share a few of these insights.
In the beginning, environmental education was mainly centered on scientific information, consciousness-raising, and the prevention of environmental risks. Now, it focuses on ways to restore the various levels of ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God. (¶210)
However, education in ecological responsibility needs to go beyond providing information to motivating people to change their habits. “Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. . . Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting that significantly affect the world around us, e.g., avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonable be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights. (¶211)
What Pope Francis is calling for is an ecological conversion as a way to motivate us to a passionate concern for the protection of our world. While he addressed his letter to all people of the world, believers and non-believers alike, in this last section, he is incorporating ecological conversion into Christian spirituality. “Here I would like to offer Christians a few suggestions for an ecological spirituality grounded in the convictions of our faith, since the teachings of the Gospel have direct consequences for our way of thinking, feeling, and living.” (¶216) Even committed and prayerful Christians have not always taken ecological concerns seriously, nor changed their habits. Francis reminds us that “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”
Reading this call to action has raised several questions for me. Here are three examples.
- How do I make conscious efforts to recycle and to conserve natural resources in all forms – including food, water, electricity, and gasoline?
- In what ways do I limit wasteful spending and try to live more simply?
- In what ways do I share my possessions and resources with those people who have less than me?
I want to close with a song of praise to the Creator called Canticle of the Sun by Marty Haugen (1980). It is based on St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer of the same name. (You can find a performance of this song by searching the title and composer.)
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come, dance in the forest,
come play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.
- Praise for the sun, the bringer of day,
he carries the light of the Lord in his rays;
the moon and the stars
who light up the way unto your throne.2. Praise the wind that blows through the trees,
the seas’ mighty storms, the gentle breeze;
they blow where they will,
they blow where they please to please the Lord.
3. Praise for the rain that waters our fields,
and blesses our crops so all the earth yields;
from death unto life
her myst’ry revealed springs forth in joy.
(3 more verses)