CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 19 January 2019

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The earth was here before us 
and it has been given to us

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord.” Has there ever been another encyclical that has so grabbed the world’s imagination and the attention of the media? Laudato si’—the encyclical titled after the words in St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures—urges the world to embark upon a revolutionary ethical rethink and change of heart in its relationship with planet earth. “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.”  

Laudato si’ begins where the apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), left off. The section on Global Inequality can be seen as a further development of the theme articulated in The Joy of the Gospel. As many of Pope Francis’ observations and deliberations are so obviously a direct dig at the world’s economic and political powers-that-be, one has to wait and see how the profit-oriented, free market economy will react to these blunt punches on the nose. The pope writes: 

“In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system, where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule.”

Does this mean the encyclical mostly addresses the people who hold power, wealth and position? Certainly not. For the busy men and women of today, who do not have the time to read through the encyclical, they must take some time read through Chapter IV, Integral Ecology, in particular Part III– Ecology of Daily Life. 

The document touches on some of the more controversial topics such as transgender issues. The pope calls for people to acknowledge their bodies as a gift from God, which should not be manipulated. “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home,” he writes, “whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

Another strong note, for Catholics in particular, are the pope’s stern words against population control and abortion. He says it is “clearly inconsistent” to combat the trafficking of endangered species while remaining indifferent toward the trafficking of persons, to the poor and to the decision of many “to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.” This attitude, he says, “Compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment.”  He adds, “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities—to offer just a few examples—it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”

Catholics must make time to read Laudato Si’ for themselves and also in community—in parish study groups, in religious education classes, or even special study sessions. 

For the Church, Laudato Si’ is a reason to celebrate, as it focusses on the human person. It develops the thesis that the sinfulness of the human heart and the resulting brokenness of human relations is the cause of the crises in our lives, families, nations and the universe at large. Hence, the punchline of the movie trailer, Encyclical, sums up the story well: “If you slap the nature, it will slap you back!” and then the final appeal to the people, “to change everything, we need everyone!” Cherukara CMF