This is probably my final post on the Encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home. I do realize that I may have worn our my welcome a few posts back. And then, with Pope Francis long ago arrived at and departed from these shores, I must seem to be beating a dead horse. Worse still, to beat a dead horse may too aptly describe the actual environmental situation in which we live. That’s the rub. How to communicate the urgency of the situation in a culture with a short attention span? Before the message gets through, boredom has already set in and the next novelty must be introduced.
I thought it was significant that the most recent newsletter from the Catholic Climate Covenant was entitled “What the Papal Visit Changed”.
You don’t need me to tell you that the Pope’s visit was anticipated with an enormous range of expectations, from Donald Trump to the lawyer of Kim Davis. But the Pope’s rhetoric seems bound by no one else’s program. More important than his message was his personal ability to reach out, not as a media personality around whom all mundane cares are suspended in the background. Early in his pontificate, he described the Church as a field hospital which would make him one of the busiest surgeons, among others, responding to the casualties. It seemed to me that during his visit here he reached out as a shepherd and was there as one of us, sharing our struggles, our questions and keeping our hopes alive. He has recently reminded the participants in the upcoming Synod that it is not a parliament but the imperative is for all of us to listen to the Holy Spirit; there’s no predetermined outcome that must beat down any opposition. It is a forum where the contrasting, contradictory opinion are to be entertained so God’s Spirit can illuminate all of us. Pope Francis is as much on pilgrimage as the rest of us.
Did his visit to the United States change anything about our relationship to the natural world and its problems.
Dan Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Climate Covenant writes this: Work on ecology isn’t about saving the Earth. As Pope Francis helps us to see, it’s about healing our relationship with God, Creation and each other. Of course, we can’t save anyone or anything. We can tackle projects, we can set goals (maybe even set out sights low so we can succeed at it), we can expend energy; we can even burn out. The challenges are bigger than anything we can accomplish. We may discover and develop alternative sources and renewable sources of energy–but can we really save the transition from being a bumpy, disastrous ride? Could we really hope to generate enough renewable, safe energy before we run out of fossil fuels or replace risky nuclear energy? No, we really can’t save the world, especially in the sense of saving the future from casualties. But there’s an enormous difference between doing nothing and beginning to heal the self-destructive pattern we are presently caught in.
To give a very mundane, small scale example, on our property, the cattle have been off the banks of the Shenandoah for well over four years and removed from the two streams that feed into our River for more than a year. Already native flowers and grasses have been flourishing as the home–even womb–for pollinators, larvae, birds and the waters run clear and clean. This hasn’t saved the Chesapeake Bay by any means but our own shores are once again the home of blue herons, osprey, bald eagles and others. The situation is, if you will, a down payment and promise that further healing can take place. Nature, like our bodies, is geared to be a self-regulating, healing system. The key is forging a different relationship with nature. If we stop exploiting her and allow her favorable conditions, and make ourselves part of the system, rather than standing outside of her realm, something wonderful can happen.
Dan Misleh also noted, The people we serve are out there. They’re counting on us. And he added that its our privilege to serve them in this capacity. We’re not saving them, as if we are a superior species of human being but we are serving them. We are working for them, all those people who are left behind by the status quo, whose resources become inaccessible to them, because we have been appropriating them; who cannot keep up in the race because we have nothing to gain by sharing our expertise with them. They cannot remain statistics. We must find ways to relate to them and their needs. Their needs are ultimately ours. Their present plight is what will become of us, too.
From all this, the God whom we cannot see, could become the vital center of our service and the key relationship we build when we meet God in his children, in his poor, in his creation. That’s something you can’t prove before hand but can cement only in the actual engagement. That’s the only way we will “know” that for sure.