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Praise be to You! The Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis

The long-standing Stewardship Tradition—emerging in antiquity and continuing into the18th century until it flickered and was extinguished in the heat of the industrial revolution—has been remarkably rekindled today! In his beautiful yet powerful encyclical letter, Laudato Si’—On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis gifted all people with a remarkably comprehensive letter. It is a letter that brings substantial hope as it bridges across both all creation and human society, inspiring everyone to envision an “integral ecology” for which creation and human society have been waiting in eager expectation. In this, Francis mirrors his namesake from Assisi and with a biblically and scientifically founded proclamation invites everyone to enter “a dialogue with all people about our common home.”

Central to his message is the assertion that “the work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature” and at the same time “she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction”. Remarkably, this much-loved pope—with the highest approval rating of any person on earth at about 90 per cent—has taken the message of Christ and the Gospel right up to the startling present. “We can rightly say that ‘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.’”

Pope Francis reminds us that the biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” [avad] refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” [shamar] means caring, protecting, overseeing, and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” Together with this reciprocal service between garden and gardener, Francis reminds us that ‘The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).”

This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world, for ‘he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away’ (Ps 148:5b-6).” And, “we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes...indeed ‘the Lord rejoices in all his works’ (Ps. 104:31).”

The pope’s encyclical is wide-ranging as it is powerful. Covering climate change, loss of biodiversity, degradation of the oceans, pollution of the air we breathe, human and social degradation, and more, it simply must be read by all. Most importantly, the approach of integral ecology—the theme of the encyclical—must now hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Francis perceptively identifies “an excessive anthropocentrism” that in disguise “continues to stand in the way...” “An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world,” he writes. We were once given “the impression that the protection of nature” was the concern only of “the faint-hearted.” But that time is over. We have come to understand that our ‘dominion’ “should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.” The last lines of the prayer of Pope Francis, concludes his vital communication:

O Lord, seize us with your power and light,

help us to protect all life,

to prepare for a better future,

for the coming of your Kingdom

of justice, peace, love and beauty.

Praise be to you!


[Image: Flickr user Philippe Put]

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