On Care for our Common Home
More excerpts from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter
Pope Francis has written a seventy four paged open letter to Christians everywhere and to the Catholic Church and the world. One of the main subjects of this letter is a plea to humans to care for the environment – God’s world, nature, each other and all living creatures. I am not a Catholic but I was blessed by reading his encyclical letter. In my last blog I went through the first half of the pope’s letter and shared some of what I thought were his main points. And today I would like to share some of the high points in the last half of the letter.
Pope Francis reminds us that a fundamental belief of the Christian faith is that “the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ…” (Page 26, paragraph 99) He quotes the Bible: “All things have been created through Him (Jesus Christ) and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) Gods’ Word says that you and I were brought into the world through Jesus and our lives are meant for Jesus. The pope quotes another passage of Scripture: John 1:1-18, which also reveals Christ as the creator of everything and as the Light that lights each of us. (John 1:9)
The pope explains that one of Jesus’ names is the “Word”. And Jesus is called the “Word” or logos when He is creating. The Bible says that the “Word” (Jesus) became “flesh” (John 1:14). Pope Francis explains that when Scripture says that Jesus became “flesh” it means that “He entered into our world, throwing in his lot with the world, even to the cross.” (Pg.26 paragraph 99)
Pope Francis says that the Bible also shows Jesus, God’s Son, risen and glorious and one Person of the Trinity. The pope quotes Scripture: “For in Him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to live, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood by His cross. (Colossians 1:19-20) The pope writes: “This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son (Jesus) will come back in all of His glory and deliver all things to the Father, so that ‘God may be everything to everyone.’” (1 Cor. 15:28) The pope writes that “Jesus (the Risen One) is holding us to Himself and directing us towards fullness as our end.” In that glorious end we will be changed. Mortality (death) will put on immortality (life). And we will be saved through the Son (Jesus).
Pope Francis’ long letter covers many subjects. He fusses that many of us have forgotten our Christian faith and how that effects the way we treat one another. How humans, without objective truth (Christian truth), can place themselves at the center and see everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. He feels that our modern culture has discarded objective (Christian) truth and put in its place a culture of relativism. Relativism drives people to take advantage of others and to treat other people as objects. He also argues that forgetting our Christian values has left us open to the mentality of a “throw away” culture that encourages us to throw people away when they no longer serve our purposes. When we have used them up. Parents abandon children and children abandon their elderly parents, wives throw away husbands, etc. In the absence of objective (Christian) truth, the pope wonders if any limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species.
He rails that the culture of relativism (the belief that there is no ultimate Truth) is the same disorder that drives one person to impose forced labor or enslave another person in order to pay their debt or to sexually exploit children for their own perverted pleasure. He rails against the mindset of those who say: “Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage.” He believes that every person should be able to find work and that a caring society should strive to make that a priority. Pope Francis is saying over and over again that we should all work together for the common good. And he calls a culture that does not do this “corrupt “and calls us all to return to Christian values.
Pope Francis is pleased that some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment and demand that some limits be put on certain research. He writes that the Catholic doctrine demands that we not experiment or torture animals during medical research when the research is not to save or extend human lives. He speaks out against transgressing boundaries when experimentation is carried out on animals as well as on living human embryos. He believes that all human life, including the life of the unborn is sacred, and that killing an unborn baby is a serious sin. I agree with him unless the life of the mother is seriously at risk.
Pope Francis believes that everything is related and that the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life. He writes: “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.” (Pg37 paragraph 142) He fusses about the fact that what takes place in one area can have an influence on other areas. He uses drug use as an example of this. He says: “Drug use in affluent societies creates a continual and growing demand for products imported from poorer regions, where behavior is corrupted, lives are destroyed, and the environment continues to deteriorate.”
Pope Francis writes that the world (the environment, nature) is a gift from God which we have freely received and must share with others. It is on loan to each generation and must then be handed on to the next. Instead of viewing what we have in a purely utilitarian way we must have this broader vision. The pope believes that our postmodern world is running the risk of rampant individualism and that many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centered culture of instant gratification.
He writes: “A constant flood of consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.” The pope adds that a world where we are constantly buying things to satisfy ourselves is “a world which mistreats life in all its forms.”
Pope Francis calls us to a new way of living. He writes: “Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsessions with consumption.” He proposes that “less is more”. He believes that Christian spirituality is a return to simplicity and a capacity to be happy with little. We are to avoid the mere accumulation of pleasures.
The pope also calls us to remember to give thanks to God at dinnertime for our meals and to accept each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. He suggests that we practice little ways of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. These practices were suggested by St. Therese of Lisieux. The pope believes that simple daily gestures of love break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.
The pope proposes a life of moderation and of humility and of love. “It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity.” He insists. “On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full.” (Pg. 57 paragraph 223) Pope Francis closes his encyclical letter with these words.” God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give Him our all, offer us the light and strength needed to continue on our way. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united Himself definitively to our earth, and His love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to Him!”