“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”.
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
The media has made this particular encyclical letter something of a “sensation” by reporting on both those who endorse the care of our environment as well as those who oppose not only the notion that we need to care for our environment but also maintain that the Holy Father has no business wading into a “political” issue. Yet those who have read the encyclical realize that the Holy Father is not approaching this issue from the perspective of politics so much as he is asking us to embrace the created order. God is the Creator; we are the subjects.
God placed our parents in the Garden and asked them to join with him in cultivating it. God’s intention was that we should share in the work of creation. Our need, however, to dominate creation and one another has clouded our vision and led us to exploit this gift at the expense of wounding the earth just as sin wounded our souls. The Holy Father calls attention to the fact that we have been irresponsible in our use of the gifts God has bestowed upon us.
Over the next few weeks, I will try to use this document to help us come to a better understanding of the issue not from a political standpoint, but from the perspective of the human family as part of the fabric of creation. We are creatures just as are all of the natural wonders of our world, created by the hand of God and lovingly invited to be fellow gardeners with the Creator.
The poem “Laudato Si,” written by St. Francis of Assisi, is the Holy Father’s starting point. A careful reading of this poem points to the fact that St. Francis uses the scientific knowledge of the 13th century to praise God’s created wonder. In his time, people thought the universe was divided into four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures, . . .
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, . . .
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; . . .
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, . . .
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, . . .
Though our own science teaches us that there are many more elements that go into the makeup of creation, it is clear from the excerpts above that St. Francis was waxing poetic by using the scientific knowledge of his day. Taking our cue from him, should we not listen to the scientists of our own time?
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator