Last summer, even before the encyclical was published, there was speculation — from scientists, environmentalists, politicians and others — about the “hardline” stance the encyclical might take on global warming and climate change. “Laudato Si,” however, proved to be more of a social encyclical than an environmental one.
Just as Pope Saint John Paul II advocated “integral human development” in the face of contemporary social evils, now Pope Francis calls for an “integral ecology” that addresses environmental issues in the larger context of economic, social, cultural, and moral questions. Although global warming is clearly a focus, our Holy Father is not trying to write a scientific exposition. Rather, he is drawing our attention to the obligation we have from God to be good stewards of life and of our planet.
As we see in the Book of Genesis, God entrusts the world he has created to us, and our stewardship has moral and ethical implications. Genesis also teaches that the human person exists in three fundamental and closely interconnected relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with material creation. We are intrinsically linked to each other and to all God’s creatures by unseen bonds that constitute a universal web of relationships. This entails a responsibility on our part for the common good, including the good of future generations.
These relationships, Pope Francis says, are broken by the sin of “presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations,” (66). Moreover, our increasing manipulative power over nature has objectified it and diminished our reverence. As a result, “our common home is falling into serious disrepair … and we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point,” says the Holy Father (61).
Increased awareness and a resolve to remedy the situation lead to everyday things like recycling, turning off unneeded lights, reducing plastic and paper use, carpooling, separating refuse, participating in Greater New Haven’s clean-up and preservation efforts, caring for other living creatures, and any number of socially-conscious steps that improve respect and protection for what God has created and entrusted to our stewardship.
Pope Francis writes that such efforts “benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (212).
“Laudato Si” is an urgent reminder that care for our “common home” is a profound moral responsibility shared by us all.
The Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hartford.