Well, the long-anticipated encyclical of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has finally been issued. Entitled Laudato Si', it deals with our duty to care for creation, which he calls "our common home". It is an extraordinary document in many ways, especially because of the manner in which he poses questions that are not normally asked. In so doing he enriches and broadens the discussion by proposing the long-held wisdom of the Church. I earnestly hope that people will give this document the serious read it deserves and ponder deeply the points he makes. Failure to do so will simply leave us in our present state, unable to move forward.
Particularly striking is the manner in which he takes the question of "respect for nature" to a new level. Following upon the teaching of St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he points to the necessity of applying to our own nature the respect we say we owe to the physical world around us. What he calls an "integral ecology" will recognize that just as the natural world manifests a delicate order and balance that must be honoured, so, too, does human nature have a "givenness" with which we must not tamper. In this regard he cites a beautiful statement from St. John Paul II: "Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed”. (cf. Laudato Si', n. 115).
The original sin, represented by the eating of the forbidden fruit, was precisely this: a failure to respect our nature as reflective of the divine purpose and therefore as a gift to be honoured and respected. Our nature is that of a creature; God alone is Creator. To be a creature is to have limits and to be dependent. God calls us to respect these limits with trust in his wisdom and providence.
So, the encyclical is a call to each of us to examine our consciences to determine if we are living in accord with our God-given nature. The summons to respect nature, especially our own, has implications that challenge many of the assumptions we see prevalent in our culture today.
It also gives us pause to reflect on how we live daily. Do I accept my limits or try to push beyond them? Am I getting enough rest? Do I balance work with my responsibilities to family? Is my diet a healthy one? Do I care for the body through exercise? Do I nourish my mind with beauty (art, music, literature)?
Most importantly, how do I care for my soul? We are created for a relationship with God, who loves us, and with one another. Do I acknowledge every day my dependence upon His goodness by giving priority to prayer in my daily activities? Am I celebrating the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance regularly? Do I examine my conscience each day? Do I give of myself (time, finances, etc) in service to others, especially the poor?
Care for creation necessarily involves recognizing our own creatureliness in its many dimensions and respecting its beauty and limits, both our own and that of others.