From the Cardinal: Action, responsible stewardship of God’s creation | June 23, 2023
Vol. 4. No. 21
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
In recent weeks, the smoky haze arising from nearly 150 wildfires burning outside Quebec, Canada, coated much of the northeast of the United States including our four counties of northern New Jersey. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this caused serious air quality issues here and as far south as northern Florida. In our part of the country, skies are darkening, and government officials are warning residents to stay inside and limit outdoor exposure as much as possible.
I am reminded of the prophetic warning of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home). In this letter, the Holy Father builds on the teaching of his predecessors (especially St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI) and calls for a conversion of mind and heart regarding our attitude toward the environment. He also challenges us to act in ways that are both eco-friendly and committed to resolving the problems of human society.
Laudato Si’ is controversial. In many ways, it is a prophetic statement that is guaranteed to make everyone uncomfortable one way or another. “A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach,” Pope Francis insists. “We must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” (#49).
Although it is a prophetic statement with many challenges for us to consider, Laudato Si’ is also a song of hope and joy inspired by the “Canticle of the Sun” written by St. Francis of Assisi as a hymn of praise to the Lord of all creation. “Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day and through whom you give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor; and bears a likeness to you, Most High” (#87). Our world is confronted with serious challenges—social, political, economic and environmental—that the pope tells us are, in reality, one crisis of “integral ecology” (#137)
“We are not God” (#67), the Holy Father says. The Earth that we inhabit does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth. As we are reminded vividly on Ash Wednesday, we are dust. We come from the dust of the Earth, and every one of us will return to dust one day. In the meantime, we are called to be stewards of all God’s gifts, and this fundamental change of perspective from owner to steward changes everything.
The “dominion” over all creation that has been given to all humankind (cf. Genesis 1:28) is not to be exercised as a form of domination, but rather as an exercise of the kind of reverent care and nurturing cultivation and pruning that a sensitive gardener gives to his or her garden. “A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power” (#78), the pope tells us.
What can you and I do? We are called to conversion, to see with new eyes and an open heart. We’re also challenged to act differently. How do we do this?
First, we have to see God’s creation, our common home, differently. This requires prayer and meditation on the wonders of the world we have been given as stewards. Then we have to make decisions on issues that are not always clear, and that people of good will can disagree about. Finally, we have to act.
Here are a few of the things that Pope Francis hopes will be stimulated by his encyclical:
- Lifestyles that are simpler, healthier and less dependent on material resources.
- A new covenant between humanity and the environment based on responsible stewardship of all God’s creation.
- A renewed sense of the sacredness of everyday things we use and too often take for granted.
- Substantive change in laws and social policies concerning the environment and care for the poor and most vulnerable members of our society.
As stewards of all God’s creation, we have to change the way we live. We have to advocate for new laws and policies in our local, national and world communities that respond to both “the cry of the Earth” and “the cry of the poor.” Change does not come easily to us. That’s why Laudato Si’ is a prophetic statement, as well as a hope-filled song of praise.
Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer,
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R
Archbishop of Newark
A view of the downtown skyline from Newark Abbey (June 7, 2023)
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org):
Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home is [an] appeal from Pope Francis addressed to “every person living on this planet” for an inclusive dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. Pope Francis calls the Church and the world to acknowledge the urgency of our environmental challenges and to join him in embarking on a new path. This encyclical is written with both hope and resolve, looking to our common future with candor and humility.
The title is taken from the first line of the encyclical, “Laudato si’, mi Signore,” or “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. The encyclical is divided into six chapters which together provide a thorough analysis of human life and its three intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth:
While Laudato Si’ is the first encyclical to focus on the environment and its destruction in such a comprehensive way, its foundation rests in a long history of Church teaching on creation.
Laudato Si’ Resources
Laudato Si’: Caring for Our Common Home Discussion Guide | en Español
This discussion guide, for use with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, can help small groups explore and dialogue with this important document.
Laudato Si’: Caring for Our Common Home Bulletin Insert | en Español
This one-page document is a brief introduction to the encyclical and details ways you can respond to Pope Francis’ call.
Laudato Si’ Online Lecture Series
This video series has been produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in partnership with the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The 6-part series covers each chapter of the encyclical in-depth with speakers including Cardinal Peter Turkson and Bishop Marcelo Sachez Sorondo.
Laudato Si’ Animated Video
This video has been produced by the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) and provides a brief overview for the encyclical for children.
Capitol Hill Briefing on Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home
This document was developed to provide a brief overview of the encyclical for legislators and congressional staff.
A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope
A selection from Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home) #’s 10–12:
10. I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.” His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.” Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of His infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “His eternal power and divinity have been made known through His works since the creation of the world.” (Rom 1:20) For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wildflowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
My Prayer for You
Laudato Si’ is a call to conversion and action but is also a call to heartfelt prayer. So, with Mary and all the saints, let’s pray:
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
Teach us to contemplate you
In the beauty of the universe,
For all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
For every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
To everything that is.
Praised be to you, Lord! Amen.