In dialogue with Francis' eco manifesto

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Pope Francis released his environmental encyclical Laudato Si' on 18 June 2015. We've had time to read it, to digest it. Now we have the opportunity to live something of its call, and the first action we're invited to take is dialogue. This encyclical, the way it's structured, is dialogical.

Woman working the landChapter one is about seeing; a clear-eyed look at the facts. Chapters two, three and four are about judging: how are we called to reflect on theology? How can we look at the situation analytically? What is this paradigm of integral ecology; a new way of seeing ourselves in space and time with everything around us?

Chapters five and six are all about action. Human tendency is always that we want to leap to action. Francis asks us to suspend that tendency, so that we can first be far more formed and informed by one another through dialogue, and ready to take action together, rather than bouncing off in ad hoc fashion.

In chapter one, 'What is happening in our common home?' Francis discusses pollution and the mentality of a throwaway culture. He talks about climate change, and the fact it is affecting so many species, and especially those peoples who have least caused the problem, who are having to deal with it at a very real level.

He reminds us of the impact of climate change on water resources, and he highlights the preciousness of fresh water, the lack of access for the human family at this time, and the ongoing concern for other species around access to fresh water on land, which is critical for all our survival.

He also looks at the social inequalities in our world. He talks about the gap between the rich and the poor, and the ever-growing concentration of wealth at one end of the spectrum. And he talks about biodiversity, the constant loss of species that is happening as we walk and talk and live on this planet.

At the very end of this chapter, he reminds us that all of the responses made to these issues so far have been very weak in the scheme of what we could really be doing. It's a very sobering read. Thankfully, the teaching continues.

 

"We need to do these things together. We can no longer just work on the social, and think someone else will look after the ecological."

 

In chapter two Francis talks about the richness of Catholic tradition, of sacred scripture, and the wisdom in the gospels. In fact he calls this whole chapter 'The gospel of creation'. This whole encyclical is about lifting up creation so that we are together in a circle, not a hierarchy with humanity at the pinnacle.

There's some great contributions to theology here. One is the intrinsic value of every single thing, living and non-living, on the earth, in the earth, around the earth. Everything is a gift from God, held in existence by God, and will return to God. When we understand that, how differently we might live on the planet.

Another key point of theology: the revelation of God comes through every single thing — the trees, the wind, the rocks, human faces, in all the different forms, living and non-living. If only we can see it, if only we can hear it, if only we can tune into it. We are called to be in dialogue with it all the time.

The third key theological insight is the call to be in a state of sublime communion; a beautiful phrase. It tells us about how God wants us to be in every moment: in right relationship with our creator, in right relationship with each other, in right relationship with the earth.

In the next chapter, Francis gives us two root causes for everything he's named in chapter one. The first is that if we hold a techno-centric worldview, where technology is seen as something that will save us, then we have misplaced a theological perspective of having God at the centre of our worldview.

Technology has a key part to play in our story. It brings about an incredible sense of the ingenuity, the giftedness of humanity, in our opposable thumbs and our grey matter. It is bringing about good in communications, in medicine, in renewable energy. But we need to see it as part of the solution, not the whole.

The second root cause is a human-centred or anthropocentric world view. This is prevalent today. How often Christians pray for humanity's needs. How often we work for humanity. We must continue to do this, but we cannot afford to do it at the cost to our earth, which is supporting us and everything else.

We need to do these things together. And that brings us to the heart of this revolutionary message. We can no longer just work on the social, and think someone else will look after the ecological. We can no longer just work on the ecological, and think someone else will take care of the social.

This integration is going to take a while, but it's quite easy when we have an expanded view of the universe, and a consciousness of the ecosystems of which we are a part. When we have this sense of integration, we bring it into our language. It's part of how we work, what we do.

Chapter four provides us with a new paradigm of Catholic Social Teaching; a pillar from which we are to look at the common good, subsidiarity, the human dignity story. In this paradigm we're able to see a profile of how to live personally in a way that is truly caring for our common home and one another.

But Francis says personal ecological conversion is not enough. We need to convert our organisations ecologically. This is harder, because we need to be far more organised, to have dialogue, to change our policy and governance.

We need also to bring in the ethical resources dimension, so that we're using the right toilet paper for example. We need to look at our energy use as an organisation, reduce the waste and move to renewables. We need to look at our water footprint as well, and biodiversity.

Chapter five talks about dialogue at every level. It is an invitation to each of us to see how we can influence the people around us. It's a call for international dialogue: to look after the global commons, to put a price on water, to look after the trading of these things in a way that is far more equitable.

It's an invitation for dialogue at a national level: to influence the politics around ecology. It's an invitation to dialogue at a local level, on the decision making about development applications and trees and biodiversity in our neighbourhood.

It's an invitation to dialogue that brings science together with religion. And it's also an invitation to have dialogue between faiths, recognising that the inter-faith space is incredibly rich when you look at all the different faith traditions' and Indigenous peoples' beliefs and worldview about how to care for the planet.

In chapter six Francis says the direction he wants Catholics to go in is ecological education. This is needed for everyone — not just the kids growing up today, but all of us — to much more deeply understand and be able to see the eco-systems around us and how we're engaging with them.

Dialogue plays a role in how we create meaning. When we have true dialogue we create a flow of meaning: between us, and between us and everything around us. Laudato Si' invites us to be mindful of the dialogue that's happening at a human level, at a cosmic level, and with the creator God.

 

 

Jacqui RemondJacqui Rèmond is former national director of Catholic Eathcare Australia and co-founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement. This text is an edited transcript of her presentation during the Catholic Social Services national conference Healing, Hearing, Hope.

Topic tags: Jacqui Remond, Laudato Si', ecological justice

 

 

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All things in the creation that is Earth are so extraordinary, so beautiful, so unfathomable and so awe inspiring that I sometimes think we are already living in the Kingdom of God. If we lived as Christ taught and accepted the stewardship of His creation then this planet would indeed be heaven. We would be living each day in God's presence. There would be no need for some nebulous heaven in the hereafter. When we do not accept the stewardship of all in this creation, however, and abuse it for our own self-interests, perhaps the man-made disasters and inequities that bring so much human distress are indeed the opposite to the Kingdom, or hell in other words. The only problem I can see in this potentially heretical theory of mine is that the abusing bastards seem to get all the Earthly breaks in what is a heaven to them while the innocents (the poor, the sick, the accidents of birth, etc) suffer circumstances that make life living hell. Heaven better be there when I set off to the hereafter or I will be very, very peed-off indeed. I hope Faith is not just some hollow human abstract!!
john frawley | 24 February 2018


Brilliant analysis, and stirring call to action. But hasn't the fundamental Christian belief of eternal reward in the afterlife (heaven or pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, depending on whether you're orthodox or not) played a huge part in producing contempt for and destruction of the environment of this, our only world? Augustine Manichean background affects more of our much-vaunted tradition than just sexual mores.
OldG | 26 February 2018


Jacqui - Thanks for this very helpful and perceptive analysis. Two areas for related attention are now pressing themselves on us with great force: One is the growth of cities - forever a contentious point in religious discussions as today's city-story of growth and consumption-unconstrained flies in the face of earth-anchored spirituality. The other is the tech revolution and all it's doing by way of moving us to post-human consciousness and practices. Thomas Berry was prepared to say (my paraphrasing - and I trust I've got it right) that, while he held Teilhard's views in great esteem, when he saw Teilhrd's late-life admiration for modern technology development as part of humanity's new phase of evolution, Berry said we had to go beyond Teilhard. (My phrasing.) Creation-based dimensions of spirituality are being swept aside by the' innovation revolution' that is only now receiving 'hang on a minute, where's all this taking us' statements of concern and some constraining efforts, eg., court actions.
Len Puglisi | 26 February 2018


Richard Rohr and James Findlay ( CAC.org ) have been expounding on this rich vein of mystical christian vision for the last six months. To see God in the animals. The birds, the cats, the dogs, even the insects. All part of the whole. To see God as the living force that grows in all things and holds form in the insentient rocks and stones that form the earth. To have compassion on the person that offends us because they live in a state of awareness where this vision is absent. Is there anything we can see that is not part of the divine creation ? Yes a veritable paradise right here and now. But how to realize it ? We can commune with this Divine nature that is in all things through discovering our own Holy Spirit within. Through silence and prayer. A communion with our own divine gift of life force is a communion with the divine creator. So close and yet so far. lets hope we can be part of a church where these teachers return and are available to all of us that want and need them to assist us to live to our full potential. Yes John, a Heaven right here and now in our midst. And also a Hell also right here and now in our midst. I left the catholic church 30 years ago in search of this non dualistic teaching and found it elsewhere. It is immensely comforting to see it raised anew in dialogue today.
Patrick | 26 February 2018


Jacqui thank you for your insightful analysis you have truly collected the wisdom of Pope Francis' message. In this time we certainly need to pay attention to ecology and include it in all our dialogue as you have stated it is in essence evidence of God in the creation. The need to be more are of the commonalities between faiths which are many rather than the differences will help to unite humanity.
Margaret Campbell | 26 February 2018


Thanks Jacqui for your thoughtful article. I live with an educator who brought earthcare education (his educational business name!) into Australia back in the 1970s. As in all prophetic callings, at the time he was not taken seriously by any person with authority in the Christian world. To see his and others' wisdom finally come into the realm of Christian education ... and be silently validated by Pope Francis' Laudatio Si ... is indeed wonderful to bear witness to. Dialogue does play a role in how meaning is created ... but it always requires a respectful relationship between the giver and the receiver for mutuality to be encountered. To say that "When we have true dialogue we create a flow of meaning: between us, and between us and everything around us" is to still locate the human at the centre of the conversation. A fuller ecological understanding would move beyond this anthropomorphic stance ... for it is in this deeper understanding that Laudatio Si would be able to uphold the mutuality inherent in an ecological approach to the dialogue that would transform in the way it's intended to ... and with more hopeful and life-sustaining possibilities.
Mary Tehan | 27 February 2018


Thanks, Jacqui, for your clear and energising article that has evoked such thoughtful responses. I hope that your perspective is being included and well considered for the church gathering in 2020.
Alex Nelson | 27 February 2018


Thank you Jacqui Rèmond for reminding us that the Catholic Church has a leader in Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) who has a great understanding about the need to deal with climate change and wide-spread pollution that is threatening the human survival. He also sees the need to challenge the anthropocentric belief that the human beings are the most significant entity in the universe - a belief followed by many Christians in the past that some believe has contributed to the current environmental challenges we face. He also seems to understand the interconnectedness of all living things or the "web of life". In addition, Francis understands the need to work for peace, social justice and human rights in the world. I suspect that much of his wisdom comes from the fact that he was born in a developing country with many political upheavals and that he has a masters degree in science (chemistry). I am not a Catholic or a Christian, but I do see some hope for humanity when there is a significant leader who has such a good knowledge of what needs to be done to build a more peaceful, safer, healthier and cleaner world and the wisdom to work with other like-minded people (whether they share his personal philosophy or not) to achieve these ends.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 01 March 2018


This message was so timely now homo sapiens is facing extinction. However one matter was not dealt with adequately.....over population.Our resources are clearly insufficient for the needs of a world population that continues to grow beyond our means of supporting more people. If we are to avoid humans suffering from insufficient food and clean water, it is vital that all people take this situation into consideration when deciding whether to have children at all or how many .This question should be a priority for everyone of child-bearing age if our species is to remain on this earth.
Mary | 02 March 2018


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