Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing": Laudato Si', 7-12

Following up on his review of recent papal teachings, Pope Francis now turns his attention to two further examples of Christian thinking on the environment: Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, and St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226). (The inclusion of Bartholomew is quite striking; I don't know when a pope last quoted an Orthodox patriarch; Catholic-Orthodox relations have not been this good since... the 10th century?)

United by the Same Concern

7. These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions…. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent…, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”.[14]… “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.[16]

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing…. “It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”.[17] As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as… a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale…. The divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.[18]

Saint Francis of Assisi

10. …Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically…. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise…. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection…. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20)….


[14] Message for the Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation (1 September 2012).

[16] Address in Santa Barbara, California (8 November 1997); cf. John Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Bronx, New York, 2012.

[17] Lecture at the Monastery of Utstein, Norway (23 June 2003).

[18] “Global Responsibility and Ecological Sustainability”, Closing Remarks, Halki Summit I, Istanbul (20 June 2012).

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