This is the final part of a seven-part series on Catholic social teaching. This package focuses on the care for God’s creation.
“Everything is interconnected.” Those three words serve as a key to unlocking the purpose of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si'” on the urgent need to give care to the planet Earth, “our common home.”
Those three words also help explain why the encyclical’s range of concerns is far wider than it may at first appear to be.
Things go very wrong in this world when we overlook essential points of connection, the pope suggests. His thought sticks with me like a simple truth often taken for granted in other areas of concern.
Doctors, for instance, hope patients will develop clarity about the interconnections between exercise, sound nutrition and bodily well-being. Counselors advise that happiness may evade us if we focus only inward upon ourselves. We fail, then, to connect with others whose needs may be great but whose considerable gifts might nonetheless nourish us if only we noticed them.
Pope Francis bases his thinking about essential interconnections in human life on Scripture. The creation accounts in the book of Genesis “suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself,” he observes (No. 66).
None of these can be deleted from the “care for our common home” equation, so to speak. The pope says:
“Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbor, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth” (No. 70).
The encyclical encourages “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” (No. 14). In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, his namesake, Pope Francis refers to our planet as a “sister” who “cries out to us.” The earth today, “burdened and laid waste,” is, he declares, “among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (No. 2).
In this way the pope speaks almost as if the earth constitutes a personal presence that should elicit a personal, caring response from us.
In any event, if the earth is to receive the care it deserves, its human element cannot be neglected. Care for the earth encompasses what the encyclical terms “human ecology.” It must foster conditions that favor human well-being.
The encyclical holds that “our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God” (No. 119).
In urging heightened care for nature, for the environment in this world, the encyclical does not overlook God’s vast creation witnessed in the heavens above. The pope recalls words of St. John Paul II in the year 2000:
“Alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night” (No. 85).
I wonder if my as-yet-unborn great- and great-great grandchildren might hear from a future pope about the urgent need to extend caring, respectful, informed attention to distant planets and their moons.
In a section of “Laudato Si'” titled “The Mystery of the Universe,” Pope Francis offers this underlying rationale for all creation:
“Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things” (No. 77).
Accenting the term “creation” in discussions like this one has a way of affirming with particular force that all life is “a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all,” Pope Francis proposes (No. 76).
Few will be surprised that the encyclical makes the pope’s concern for the poor abundantly clear. Because the Lord is their maker, he says, “the rich and the poor have equal dignity” (No. 94).
Gratitude and generosity are ways of acknowledging creation as God’s “loving gift,” the pope makes clear. His hope is that such attitudes will lead to “a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion” (No. 220).
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(Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.)