Reflections on Laudato Si
By Tim McEvoy
Since joining the retreat team and community of St Beuno’s, recently I had the privilege of attending a retreat exploring some of the themes of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Sí: On Care for Our Common Home led by Celia Deane-Drummond, a professor of theology from the University of Notre Dame in the US. I can’t say that papal encyclicals are my usual go-to sources of spiritual inspiration but Laudato Sí has left a deep impression on me and so I thought I would share a couple of points of reflection on it. It is a big church document of historical importance for addressing the present ecological crisis and calling for dialogue between the religious, political and scientific communities but it is also incredibly readable and quotable, so I recommend dipping into it! (Copies are available freely online via the Vatican’s wesite but also from the St Beuno’s bookshop).
During the retreat, Celia drew out for us some of the encyclical’s more significant themes, showing its roots in Ignatian and Franciscan spirituality and its weaving together of strands of traditional theology of creation with Catholic Social Teaching. Pope Francis’ signature emphasis on mercy emerges strongly in it as the fruit of a genuine conversion: mercy towards all of God’s creation, not just a part of it, as we are invited to respond in a meaningful way to both the ‘cry of the poor’ and the ‘cry of the earth’. For Francis, our climate crisis – which particularly affects the poor communities in our world – is first and foremost a spiritual crisis. I was particularly struck and challenged by the call at the heart of Laudato Sí to an ‘ecological conversion’: not a conversion to a particular political movement or sub-discipline of theology but a complete conversion to Christ that is holistic and cosmic, that sees the interconnectedness of all things and that affects all my relationships: with others, with God and with creation itself. These cannot ultimately be separated.
It is tempting to be overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the problem when it comes to climate change and humanity’s relationship with the earth. Many institutions and structural layers are involved - social, political and religious - and there are no easy answers. But instead of getting lost in ‘problem-solving’ or despairing at the lack of apparent leadership on this issue, Pope Francis reminds us of the logic of the Gospel, quoting Thérèse of Lisieux: we are asked to make ‘simple, daily gestures’ ourselves that involve living with greater integrity as human beings in harmony with all God’s creation. Grand gestures and plans will have no roots unless we as individuals are converted to an ‘integral ecology’: that is, to right relationships with ourselves, with others, with God and with all living beings. St Francis of Assisi is upheld as the model for this new ‘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, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full’. Only this contemplative attitude gets to the heart of the issue of humanity’s broken relationship with the earth and its resources, helping us to discover that ‘less is more’ and to ‘overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers’. Only as contemplative followers of Christ, in other words – present to the mysterious presence of God in all things – can we make or embody any real change.
This attitude – the result of our full conversion – is summed up beautifully in ‘A prayer for the Earth’ which Francis includes at the end of the encyclical and which seems a good and hopeful place to end:
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognise that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.