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Friday, July 3, 2015

On Caring for our Common Home -excerpts from Pope Francis' encyclical letter

On Care for our Common Home
Some excerpt from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter

Pope Francis has written a seventy four paged letter to the Catholic Church and to Christians everywhere and also to the world.  I was blessed by reading his encyclical letter but it has caused a stir and many strongly disagree with it. The main subject of this letter is a plea to humans to care for the environment – Gods’ world, nature, animals and all living creatures, etc. I am not a Catholic but I believe the Holy Spirit was speaking through this letter and I would like to share just a few of his many ideas here and encourage you to read his letter for yourself.

Pope Francis suggests that Judeo-Christian thinking takes the verse in Genesis 1:28 where God grants Adam and Eve and their human children “dominion” over the earth and misinterprets it.  Sometimes we humans interpret this word “dominion” to mean that we can exploit and dominate God’s earth.  Some think that the word “dominion” means that the earth is there for us to do with what we like or plunder it if we wish. We can destroy the land and vegetation and hunt and slaughter the living creatures just for sport and fun.  And then brag about it!  Pope Francis disagrees.

Pope Francis quotes Genesis 2:15 where God is instructing we humans to lovingly “till and keep” the world He created.  The Pope interprets “tilling” as cultivating, ploughing or working while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving.  We are to protect the earth and ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.  The Pope emphasizes that the earth belongs to the Lord.  (Ps.24:1 and Dt.10:14)  He says that God rejects every claim to absolute ownership by us humans: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine: …” (Leviticus 25:23a) 

The Pope believes that the laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings.  He quotes these scriptures: “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help” and “ If you see a bird’s nest with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young, you shall not take (kill) the mother bird away from the young.” (Deuteronomy 22:4, 6)  Along these lines, resting on the seventh day is not only meant for humans, but for all created beings “that your ox and your donkey may have rest.”(Exodus 23; 12)

I quote the Pope here: “…In the story of Noah…God threatens to do away with humanity because of its constant failure to fulfil the requirements of justice and peace:  “I have determined to make an end of all flesh: for the earth is filled with violence through them.”  (Gen.6:13)  These ancient stories, full of symbolism, bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.

Although “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gen 6:5) and the Lord “was sorry that He had made man on the earth” (Gen.6:6), nonetheless, through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation.  In this way God gave humanity the chance of a new beginning.  All it takes is one good person (Noah) to restore hope!”  I never thought of that – that God restored hope to mankind during that desperately wicked time through just one man – Noah.  This shows how important each one of us can be in the scheme of things.  If we give ourselves to the Lord He can also use us to restore hope.  

The Pope believes that when we forget God as all-powerful and as Creator we can end up worshipping earthly powers or putting ourselves in God’s place and trampling His creation underfoot.  The Pope worries that we sometimes view nature as a source of profit and gain, and believe that “might is right” and then the winner takes all and the poor are left behind.  He reminds us that Jesus taught that: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over the people and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you: but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”  (Matthew 20:25-26)  Christ is calling us to follow Him in humility and servanthood.

The Pope stresses that we humans all are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect.  Then he reiterates that: “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment…”  “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures,”   

 Concern for the poor is always top priority everywhere throughout the Pope’s letter.  He writes: “Certainly, we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly.  But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some people who think of themselves as more worthy than others.

We fail to see that some brothers and sisters are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet.”  He quotes the New Zealand bishops as asking what the commandment “Thou shall not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive.”  He believes that if we keep most everything for ourselves we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. 

What Pope Francis writes about private property may sound foreign to our ears. But we can find Biblical truth here.  He says: “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. …”  The Pope then quotes Saint John Paul II as saying: “The Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a “social mortgage” on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them.”    

He continues that we humans surely agree that the earth is a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.   If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. 

I am only sharing parts of the first half of Pope Francis’s letter today and only those parts that especially touched me.  Next week I will continue sharing the rest of the letter – or those parts of it that especially spoke to my heart.  I hope it will bless you on your journey.

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