This post will not be conceptual, as have been the previous posts on Pope Francis’ Encyclical, but more organizational. In what sense.? Given that the conventional printed format, the text runs some 177 pages. The average reader may find it daunting to read it straight through. It could help to focus on what interests you the most and then, over time, fill in the gaps, reading what you had first skipped over. So I’m referring to the organization and contents of the text and will outline it in this and next few posts.
The printed text is composed of numbered paragraphs for easy reference. After the introduction, it is divided into Chapters (six of them) and each thematic Chapter is divided into related sub-sections (as few as three, as many as nine, depending on the Chapter).
The Introduction recalls the urgency of the current environmental crisis and recent papal teaching (from Pope John XXIII through Benedict XVI) and that of Patriarch Bartholomew on our relationship to the natural world. Pope Francis puts his concerns in the perspective of Francis of Assisi, that is, Catholic Spirituality, and appeals to the reader’s responsible attention
Chapter One presents the scientific evidence of the crisis. It is entitled What is Happening to our Common Home. This is a well researched consideration of what environmentalists have been warning us for decades. In a sense, there is nothing new here, presenting the problem in categories or subsections: Pollution and Climate Change; The Issue of Water; Loss of Biodiversity; Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society; Global Inequality; Weak Responses; a Variety of Opinions.
In another sense there is something very new here, for the average reader may have casually heard something of the first three topics but may have not paid sufficient attention of how they are all impacting us at once. People of faith may not have attended to these issue at all.
More important, I believe, are the paragraphs at the end of the first section on Pollution and Climate Change: they consider “Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture” and “climate change as common good.” These paragraphs could be applied to all three topics of the First Chapter and interpret them ethically. They challenge the unthinking purchasing habits of more affluent cultures. They also remind us that however much we wish to evade particular issues, it is nothing but denial to think that what we do with our natural resources has impacted no one else. The earth is interconnected, a network of organisms and interdependency and there are no isolated benefits or “private” good. Each of us needs to be aware whether what seems desirable for me deprives someone else of fundamental rights and resources.
The Chapter culminates with Sections Four and Five discussing how natural damage effects human beings. We, as a race, are victims of our own choices; this is self-destruction. The chapter is rounded out by the ineffectiveness of our collective response up to the present and the kind of thinking that ignores the urgency of the problem.
This hefty Chapter may be where many readers would want pause. It may make claims that would seem very controversial to some people’s thinking. If could be beneficial to check out other reliable studies on the topic to become more acquainted with the issues. I think this is a very well placed Chapter to get people thinking.
Chapter Two discusses The Gospel of Creation. For believers already well informed of the issues and already moved by the urgency of our situation, this may be an ideal place to begin. This Chapter reminds us why the Pope cannot leave this problem to governments or private organizations as if it were a purely secular concern. In recent centuries, Catholic Theology (despite itself, influenced by the methodology of the Enlightenment) and Spirituality (unconsciously impacted by Jansenist otherworldliness) have certainly been oblivious to the natural world and adopted a laissez faire attitude towards capitalism, free market economy and imperialism. Yet we would find something very different in earlier Catholic teaching both in the West and in the East.
This Chapter recovers from Scripture and our rich tradition that our faith demands that we take responsibility for the stewardship of our resources. This is not an optional extra for those drawn to such interests, nor is it baptizing concerns not essential to the Gospel. Rather, we are considering the break down of Catholic lived spirituality in the past few centuries, when faith became privatized, marginalized or persecuted in in various modern societies. Again, this Chapter is a valuable challenge well deserving prayerful consideration for active responses.
to be continued