When we fall in love,become parents, or enter into any significant relationship, it is not uncommon
to experience a shift in worldview that shapes our actions.
holding their first newborn son or daughter. While there is no instruction
manual for all the possible circumstances they may encounter, their guiding
framework is the loving, parental relationship with their child. With his
encyclical Laudato si', Pope Francis invites
us to understand more deeply our relationships with God, one another, and the
rest of creation, and to live accordingly. "Everything is connected," he
reminds us (LS 91).
God uses creation to
bring us into loving relationship with himself, most notably through the sacraments.
We experience this most powerfully in the Eucharist, the true body and blood of
Christ, received under the appearance of bread and wine, where "all that has
been created finds its greatest exaltation" (LS 236). God invites us to embrace
creation on this deeper level through our worship of himself (LS 235). Our
relationship with Christ—strengthened by receiving him worthily in Holy
Communion—helps us understand our relationships with one another and with creation.
Pope Francis warns
against placing ourselves "at the center," thinking we don't need God and lacking
concern for other creatures (LS 122, 68-69). But he also rejects the view that
"the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of
intervention prohibited" (LS 60). The Holy Father affirms, instead, that human
beings possess "a particular dignity above other creatures" and share a distinct
responsibility for the world entrusted to us (LS 119, 242). When any of our
relationships are out of balance—with God, one another, or the rest of
creation—all our relationships suffer.
We see evidence of this imbalance
on a large scale today. Building upon the teaching of his predecessors, the
Holy Father discusses in great detail the disrepair apparent in creation. Our
distorted relationship with God has infected our relationship with the earth, evidenced
by pollution, lack of clean water, toxic waste, and immense material waste. For
example, "approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and
'whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the
poor'" (LS 50).
What the Holy Father often
calls a "culture of waste" or a "throwaway culture" even goes so far as to see and
treat human life as disposable. The elderly are marginalized, and the lives of
persons with disabilities are deemed less worth living (LS 123). The
fundamental truth that "the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his
or her degree of development" is forgotten—leading to the destruction of
unwanted babies in the womb and experimentation on embryonic children in the lab
(LS 136, 123). Sometimes, even efforts to alleviate the suffering of certain
populations lead to offenses against human life. Pope Francis warns, for
example, against international pressure which makes the promotion of
contraception, abortion, and other harmful practices a condition for economic
At times, efforts seeking
to protect the environment and other creatures disregard or even attack the
particular dignity of human beings. Although we are called to care for
creation, the Holy Father makes clear that this approach is not only
inconsistent, it "compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of
the environment" (LS 91). Quoting Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Charity in Truth, Pope Francis explains
everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible
with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance
of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient
they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is
uncomfortable and creates difficulties? "If personal and social sensitivity
towards the acceptance of new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that
are valuable for society also wither away" (LS 120).
Pope Francis isn't
endorsing a secular environmentalism—he has a broader idea in mind—one that
echoes the sentiments of another predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II. In his
1990 World Day of Peace message, the great saint reminded us that "no
peaceful society can afford to neglect either respect for life or the fact that
there is an integrity to creation"
(7). He later addressed Catholics directly, reminding us of our "serious
obligation to care for all of creation" (16).
If we are filled with the
love of God, a culture of encounter and solidarity will begin to bloom. Pope
Francis stresses, "We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which
approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully
present to someone without thinking of what comes next" (LS 226). With this attitude
of heart, we neither treat other humans as disposable, nor neglect to care for
God's creation at any level. Through a conversion of heart, repairing our
relationships with God, one another, and all of creation, we can combat the
many pollutants that poison our hearts and our world.
Excerpts from Laudato si'
(Care for Our Common Home) © 2015 and
"Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day
of Peace" © 1990, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City. Used with
permission. All rights reserved. Models used for illustrative purposes only. Copyright
© 2016, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All