This blog is written by Linda Jones, Head of the CAFOD Theology Programme. Linda shares her initial response to the Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.
I have to admit that sometimes reading Church documents can feel more of a duty than a joy. But reading the new encyclical, Laudato Si’: on the care of our common home is a completely different experience.
I feel full of joy and excitement. I can sense possibilities, hope and new opportunities. Pope Francis draws a stark and troubling picture of reality, but also reminds us that change is possible and that we can work together to care for creation.
The choice to care for creation, rather than exploiting the earth for our own short-term gain, will demand that humanity itself must change. We can no longer live as if our actions have no consequences, nor can we continue to put economic growth and consumption above all else. We have not taken into account the costs to ourselves as humans of prioritising economic growth over human flourishing, nor have we sufficiently considered the cost to our environment.
“The climate is a common good,” Pope Francis writes, “belonging to all and meant for all.” And yet the earth, our sister, “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”
The scale of the challenge
We cannot continue to live in the way we do now. We are facing climate change, the loss of biodiversity, forests and clean water. There is no quick fix, “caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for a quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation.”
The Pope tells us that infinite and unlimited growth is a myth, because there are limits to the earth’s capacity. We have plundered and exploited nature for our own ends. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.”
Pope Francis has engaged in a dialogue with scientists and scientific thought in order to prepare the encyclical, and he is very clear that climate change is real and urgent.
“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”
A political, economic and cultural crisis
Climate change cannot be tackled as a single issue. The questions we are facing are much broader, not just questions of lifestyle, but of how we organise our societies –questions of economics and politics, but also of culture, behaviour and attitude. Pope Francis calls us to dialogue with others, to be creative, and to move away from our individualistic way of living towards a life of real and respectful relationships with each other, with the earth and other creatures, and with God. The new way of life that we need to create may be a life with less of some things – consumer goods for example – but it will be more rich and fulfilling in other ways. “Less is more” he says.
Given the scale of the challenge facing us, Pope Francis is disappointed in the lack of international leadership so far. “It is remarkable,” he says, “how weak international political responses have been.” Economic interests, and the interests of a few, have been allowed to take precedence over the common good. He calls on leaders to take responsibility and think more broadly, beyond national interests. And he asks us all to face up to what is happening, and not allow ourselves to be silent witnesses to injustice.
What does it all mean for me?
The more I read and reflect on the encyclical, the more I realise what an enormous challenge we are facing. We are being asked to change the way we live, as individuals, in community and as a society. Pope Francis recognises that this is difficult. We have a lot of information and knowledge, but all this awareness has not translated into changing the way we behave or even sufficiently changed our attitudes. It is as if we have bought into the narrative of consumption – I must have more – even if our faith and our conscious mind tells us something different. Even though we know deep down that the possession of more and more material goods is not key to a fulfilling and meaningful life, we have been bombarded by messages to the contrary.
A spiritual response
What I found most helpful in terms of being able to make the changes demanded of me was the idea of an ‘ecological spirituality.’ “Christian spirituality”, Pope Francis writes, “proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.”
It is through the motivation of my faith and through prayer that I can undergo a truly ecological conversion, and re-learn how to live in authentic relationship with other people, with God and with the earth. Rather than a ‘sack cloth and ashes’ lifestyle this would be a life of real joy, deep meaning and profound purpose.