Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A few hours to go...

In just a few hours, the Holy See will release Pope Francis' new encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si." While encyclicals aren't infallible statements, th...ey do represent one of the highest levels of teaching authority within the Church. As part of the Church's social teaching, we don't have the luxury of simply dismissing the document as one man's opinion. That Pope Francis has dedicated one to the care of creation represents his own resistance to consumerism, exploitation of the environment and the poor, and our "throw away culture." But, his call for greater accountability and environmental stewardship is continuing a trajectory begun by Bl. Pope Paul VI which was continued by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

 

I agree with many catechists and commentators that we should not read *about* the document, rather, we should take time to read the document. Unlike any other document issued by the Catholic Church in recent years, this encyclical is causing a firestorm on both the left and the right. Sadly, both the Catholic population and all the "people of good will" that Pope Francis wants to reach are going to be bombarded with sound bites and headlines that won't be able to catch the breadth of teachings and reflections that this document will likely contain.

Based on recent speeches and homilies, as well as themes Pope Francis spoke on in "The Joy of the Gospel," it seems safe to assume that this document will contain critiques of western economic practices and consumerism, along with calls for changes in our use of fossil fuels and industrial processes that are wreaking havoc on the environment. Many in the media--and political leaders--will talk about climate change and "global warming, but in the end, Pope Francis' concern with the environment begins and ends with his conviction that we are responsible for one another. No business, interest group, or nation has the right to engage in business or industrial practices that place others at risk or deprive them of the basic human rights, including clean air and water. That is a truth that is a fundamental part of the Christianity and so many other world religions. We are responsible for our brothers and sisters and I find any attempts to pretend otherwise--including defending exploitative or reckless practices, especially in the name of economics--to be unchristian at least. This will certainly challenge our American entitlement and I think that is a great thing and its long overdue.

One member of the US House of Representatives has already dismissed the encyclical by essentially staying that the pope should stick to matters of faith/religion and leave the policy making to the politicians. Well, I would respond to the congressman that the pope is doing exactly what a pastor should do: he's protecting the flock entrusted to his care and, as a good pastor, Pope Francis understands that this extends to everyone because pastors don't have the right to ignore anyone in need.

So, read the encyclical, take the commentaries and opinion pieces for what they are, and remember that what is really at stake here is our basic human responsibility to care for one another and to ensure that those who follow us are given the opportunity to live in a world where they can be healthy and flourish.

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