June 23, 2015
Pope Francis' new encyclical Laudato Si is less controversial than people think. Although Francis heavily treads in an area previously only lightly touched by his predecessors he merely reiterates established Catholic doctrine. Moreover, Pope Francis' fundamental message transcends climate change or political provocation: it laments the moral deterioration of man and societal institutions, and optimistically rallies for a purposeful revival of humility, selflessness, and love of God.
At the heart of his exhortation, Francis asks: "What kind of world do we want to leave for those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?"
In answering this question, Pope Francis addresses a number of environmental issues. But he does so in a context that all Christians share. God put Adam in Eden to till it and keep it (Genesis 2:15); He forbade man from polluting the earth (Numbers 35:33) or stripping it bear (Leviticus 19: 9-10). The Earth is a gift to man from God; it is a glimpse into God's unfathomable glory and greatness. Any man that destroys the earth robs future generations of witnessing this piece of God's glory.
Pope Francis seeks to reinvigorate these Biblical values in Christians everywhere. He does not condone the secular environmental movement that divorces human life from environmental improvement, nor does he support specific policies: "On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views" (61).
Rather than prescribing policy to improve the ecological environment, Francis focuses on solutions to fix the human environment, the heart of the crisis:
Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others. Our openness to others, each of whom is a "thou" capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the "Thou" of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (119)
Our environment is indeed in crisis. Mothers kill their own children, children are taught to choose their own gender, families are torn apart, and material wealth stands as the mark of success. Why, then, should we be surprised that man is indifferent to others' needs? Mankind has been calloused to his neighbor's suffering.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis shows that there is a simple and expedient solution for our environmental crisis: the love of Jesus Christ. As St. Francis of Assisi said in the encyclical's namesake, "Laudate e benedicete mi' Signore et rengratiate," "Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility."