Friday, August 28, 2020
Family and spirituality

Five years after Laudato Si, and 50 after the first Earth Day

Water flows down Fishhook Creek, near Palmer, Alaska, June 26, 2019. Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” was widely lauded for its scope on the moral and ethical response to protecting Earth’s environment for future generations. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass)

A 2013 Catholic Review file photo shows the beauty of Maryland’s natural environment. (CR file)

This spring highlights the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical, “Laudato Si- On Care For Our Common Home,” and 50th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22.

Despite the 1972 enactments of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, not much has changed in the prophetic critique of industrial consumerism over the past 50 years, nor in worsening degradation and pollution of our common home, especially concerning carbon emissions and climate instability. Our stubbornness in refusing to see and hear God’s immanence in his beloved creation remains at the root of our crisis.

Wendell Berry, one of the great care for creation prophets of the 1960s and 1970s, presaged the ecological teachings of Pope Francis and that of his predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. While Berry blasted the economic-ecological duality and ensuing wreckage of the dawn of agribusiness in the 1960s, which continues to this day in depletion of soils, build-up of oxygen-choking nitrogen in our oceans, loss of cultural resilience in small farming communities and other ill effects, Pope Francis, too, has lamented the continuing destructiveness of the consumerist-technological economy.

In his masterful 1977 treatise, “The Unsettling of America,” Berry writes: “A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity and can grow only among a people soundly established upon the land; it nourishes and safeguards a human intelligence of the earth that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace.”

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes:

“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” (LS, 117)

The American and Argentine prophets sing the same tune. Forsaken have been divine wisdom through ecological designs, including the mind of humanity at its most humble and discerning best. Economic and technological idolatry have won out. The consequences are brutal, and the time for ecological conversion is now.

Before shifting to atonement, we first need to dive a little more deeply into the human roots of the crisis, the title of the third chapter of Laudato Si. In the words of Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, author of “Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si,” consumerist society upholds a “mechanistic conception of nature” as nothing other than “inert matter, a storehouse of resources.” It follows that no matter how accelerating and massive the damage done by extractive industries and climate change, we as consumers continue clinging to familiar economic and cultural ways, unresponsive to realities.

Suffering might do what habit and obstinacy have failed to do: If we desire our progeny to live in a welcoming biosphere, and if we desire to create an economy that is friendly to people and our bio-community. To return to God is to return to dust and ashes, as creatures in fraternal communion with all the wonders and terrifying powers of creation.

Interestingly, the coronavirus crisis proves how much we can allow for globally coordinated change, however reluctantly, toward attaining a common goal. It is astounding how willing we are to essentially lower the thermostat on the economy – in the short term – for the sake of saving millions of lives. What if we could do the same to address the slower-burn crisis of the climate?

Berry and Pope Francis insist that our lifestyles need to relax and renew, unceasingly, in order to invert the dominant market and government systems in the direction of health, resilience and regeneration. Hope abounds, whether in spheres of farming or energy, homes or cities. Creation prophets point to alternative, smaller scale movements, seeded in closeness to the land, biomimicry, artistry and replenishing God’s gifts.

Our noble calling is to learn to revere and imitate the brilliant dynamics of ecosystems. Thus, we need to build a holistic political economy, in which we no longer deify profits or consumer ease. It is neither capitalist nor socialist, simply God-centered, in tune to the well-being of humanity and creation.

Let this five years’ marking of Laudato Si and 50 years’ celebration of Earth Day impel our desires to know and accept our sacred place like never before.

Email Doug DeMeo at

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