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Sunday, June 21, 2015

LAUDATO SI: Care for Our Common Home Requires Heartfelt Conversion

by Susan Fox

“Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world...now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.” (Pope Francis in Laudato Si, Paragraph #241)
Pope Francis visited the United States this week, Sept. 22-25, 2015. He spoke again about our common home, the planet earth. Few understood the point he was making. 

I was born into a great hot basin in the heart of Los Angeles, California, in 1953.

The air settled there, and collected all that was noxious from those years of rapid industrialization. This was before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cracked the whip. “People take sick ... from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agro-toxins in general.” (Laudato Si, Paragraph #20)

As a child in that toxic mix, I’m sure I would have greeted Laudato Si, the new encyclical by Pope Francis on the environment, with great joy. Finally, somebody was going to defend me! I spent much of my childhood sick, really sick because the dentist put massive mercury in my jaw and because I couldn’t breathe clean air. My bronchial tubes have never recovered!

However, the new encyclical by Pope Francis, “On Care for our Common Home,” which has many beautiful things in it, will probably never be read in its entirety because he choose a supposedly false science, that of man-made global warming, to illustrate the problem with the environment.

Conservative Catholics in the developed world are outraged, saying he has bad science advisors. Crisis Magazine – reading a leaked version of the encyclical before it was released June 18 – warned that Pope Francis’ supposed consensus of scientists claiming man-made global warming has already been debunked.  

Conservatives are outraged because the pontiff attacks consumerism. And consumption creates jobs and a robust economy – as long as the economy is producing something besides fast food and coffee!

But Pope Francis is NOT anti-business. Look what he told the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24, 2015:
"It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129)." 

The pope may have poorly chosen the scientific viewpoint he put in the encyclical, that of man-made global warming,  but he wiggled out of it in paragraphs 61 and 188.

“On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts... But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair.”( Laudato Si, Paragraph #61) This is true.

And in paragraph #188: “There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”

I know some Catholic-hating person will say, “Susan how can you be Catholic with a pope that thinks like that?” I’ve been asked it before. But this Church document does not attempt to force any scientific viewpoint on us. We are free NOT to believe in man-made global warming.

And on the issue of consumption, he is really attacking unfettered shopping. Don’t you know anyone who shops to overcome depression? Well, they are not living in harmony with God, their fellow man, themselves nor their natural environment, according to the pope. Unfettered shopping leads to unfettered waste in time, money and materials. And I agree. I constantly fight the same temptation. The question I ask is “Do I need it?” If I don’t, I don’t buy it.

The other problem with the document though is that it presents true Catholic thinking on our relationship with nature. This thinking is not well understood unless you are already in a very high level of union with God. Think St. Francis.

St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio
Few of us are ready to deal peacefully with a man-eating wolf. Most would prefer to shoot it. But the whole town of Gubbio hearing  of St. Francis’ relationship with nature called on him to save them after several people were killed by a local wolf. St. Francis met the wolf, spoke to him, and found he was lost from his pack, injured and hungry.

So he brokered a deal with the town where they would feed the wolf, and he would harm no one in the town. Now this probably seems fantastical to you. We are not used to thinking in these terms at all.

Luckily, for many years I have been involved in  Disciples of Jesus and Mary (DJM), a Catholic formation program in Prayer, Discernment and Discipleship,  and we all try to live in harmony with nature.

We take St. Antony of the Desert (251-356) as our model. Vexed with the crowds that constantly asked him questions, Antony went to live in the desert. Since food was not readily available, he planted a garden. But the beasts of the desert came and damaged his crops. So he grabbed one of the beasts, and said graciously, “ Why do you harm me when I do not harm you? Begone, and in the name of the Lord do not come near these things again.”  (St. Antony of the Desert by St. Athanasius)

The creatures obeyed him. This is what it was like when man lived in harmony with nature in his original innocence.

Believe it or not, many of us in DJM have found this form of prayer works. The other day, a big fat fly flew into my office. He was so annoyed he wanted to go outside. I looked at
him and thought of a geometric map to the screen door. And in the name of Jesus, I told him to go there, and he would get out.

Later I walked past the screen door, and the impatient fly was there. I opened it and he flew out. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than immediately grabbing a fly swatter.

“For Christians, believing in one God who is Trinitarian communion suggests that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation. Saint Bonaventure went so far as to say that human beings, before sin, were able to see how each creature “testifies that God is three.” The reflection of the Trinity was there to be recognized in nature ‘when that book was open to man and our eyes had not yet become darkened.””  (Laudato Si #239)

Imagine that! That big fat fly had the mark of the Holy Trinity in its nature! I always tell God He’s an alien because some of his creatures are ugly! Really ugly.

He just laughs.

But some animals do make themselves to be pests and they don’t respond to prayer so we DJMs use pee. Applications of Coyote pee save our flowers from rabbits; fox pee causes skunks to exit our decks. We put chicken wire under our gardens so underground pests won’t burrow up and eat it. We plant low-water eco-lawns that don’t require much mowing. We even have gadgets that make noise that spiders don’t like. Our Catholic spirituality translates into a more harmonious relationship with nature.  That’s what Pope Francis is getting at: “We are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: ‘by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory,’ and indeed, ‘the Lord rejoices in all his works.’(Ps 104:31). (Laudato Si #69)

I distinctly remember my mother sitting in our big picture window gazing at the lush green forest in Washington State as the rain poured down. Everything was luminous green.
Tora Hutchison: "Isn't God good?"
She said, “Isn’t God good?”

Pope Francis echoes such spirituality in Laudato Si.  He writes about St. Francis, who would burst into song when he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals. “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. 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.’” 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.” (Laudato Si #11)
Image of African family planning from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda, do some good charitable work, but they have fallen into the trap of thinking that reducing population will benefit the poor. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation states that their goal is to “bring access to high-quality contraceptive information, services, and supplies to an additional 120 million women and girls in the poorest countries by 2020 ... with the longer-term goal of universal access to voluntary family planning.”

Unfortunately, birth control pills pollute the water supplies especially in rural areas that depend on wells, causing fish, frogs and other small animals to develop abnormal sexual organs, and it also affects human children because the drinking water is polluted with hormones.  But nobody wants to look at that. “Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate,” Pope Francis says in Laudato #50. “At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure, which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health.” To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”  In other words, contraception and abortion do not solve poverty and will not save the earth.
Ocean Front Condo in Downtown Malibu on Billionaire's Beach 
Fifteen years ago, my 12-year-old son and I attended a family get-together in Malibu, California. My dear cousin, who lived there, rented a hotel room downtown on Malibu Beach. We had a view of the ocean and a small balcony on the beach.

We home-schooled and it was our practice to say Morning Prayer every day, so we opened our breviaries, sat down on the balcony in that lovely environment, and started to pray.

The Invitatory (beginning) of Morning Prayer usually  starts with Psalm 95.  “Come, let us sing to the Lord and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us... The Lord is God, the mighty God, the great king over all the gods. He holds in His hands the depths of the earth and the highest mountains as well. He made the sea; it belongs to him, the dry land, too, for it was formed by his hands.”

My son and I were praying that when I suddenly realized that the beach below our balcony was restricted to people staying at the hotel. The private beach was only 30 feet long (Malibu property is expensive), but from each direction our hotel had put up a sign that said, “Stay out. Private Property!” California joggers politely ignored the signs and crossed “our” beach anyway. My son and I burst out laughing. God made the sea. It belongs to Him! The dry land too, for it was formed by His hands.

This understanding is the basis of Laudato Si. “A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.” (#75)

Pope Francis also points out the hypocrisy of the Left, which seeks to buy and sell carbon credits to justify a lavish lifestyle while killing unborn children, who are deemed unwanted. “A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love.” Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

In my youth, I lived for a short time with two other young women in a big house in Spokane, Washington. One had a big beautiful and kind white dog. The other got a nervous female Doberman puppy and left it unsprayed when it came into its menses, which was a mess.  Both dogs were left in the basement all day and their leavings were almost never cleaned up. The laundry room was in the basement, and I had to dodge dog droppings when I tried to do my laundry. My roommates were negligent in the care of their pets.

Unsurprisingly, the spiritual lives of these young women were also disordered. They went bar hopping on the weekends and brought men home. I used to shove a chair under my bedroom door at night because I never knew when I would find a man passed out drunk in our bathroom. One roommate went to Seattle, had a one-night stand with a married man and got pregnant. She smoked dope as she prepared to have an abortion. The other was an alcoholic, and suffered from depression. She had a close relationship with a man, but they kept breaking up because of her promiscuity and drinking. I wrote poems about both of them: Skid Row Profiles 3: Betty the Alcoholic   and The Choice

A nun rescued me. Realizing I stayed there because of the low rent, she asked, “Susan, what do you pay in monthly rent?” I answered, “Sister, I pay $125.” She found me a small house that rented for that amount exactly. It was across the street from a good Catholic family with six kids. She even got me furniture. I moved out of the disordered household. Sadly, after I moved out, I heard a car killed the beautiful white dog we all loved.

This story illustrates one of Pope Francis’ points: “It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people.” (#92)

And in Paragraph #117, he said man cannot care for nature when he fails to see the worth of an unborn child, the elderly, the poor or a handicapped person. “Neglecting to monitor the
harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself. 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.”

Finally, Pope Francis understands that man is a bodily creature, and we find our ultimate meaning in the Incarnation. “For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. ‘Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation.’” (#235)

I wondered how is Pope Francis going to change the hearts of everyone in the world with this message? Only parts that support the liberal mindset will be broadcast. Well at the end, he gave us a couple of prayers to pray....

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
hat we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

A Christian prayer in union with creation

Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!
Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.
Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!

Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!

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.
God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!

Did you enjoy this piece? Perhaps you'd like to read   Poorly Catechized World Misunderstands Pope Francis


  1. One of the best analyses I've read! This is fantastic. It brings what the Pope is trying to convey to a personal experience.

  2. How do we square the circle that we have two different prayers? One that could be said to The Great Architect in a Masonic Lodge or any other false religion. Prayer can only be directed to the Triune God through Christ our Lord. The first prayer does not do that. Is this syncretism or indfferentism. My problem with Laudato si is not the good which it says consistent with tradition and revealed truth, it is what is hidden in poor choices of words. The world is a "sacrament of communion" and that is not even the Pope's quote, as just one example. I find this encyclical disturbing due to the people involved in its ghostwriting, and its presentation. It reads more like some kind of manifesto.

  3. Dear Vox, I do understand your disquiet. I felt the part on Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the section on man-made global warming were off. But I looked for the obedience wiggle room. He left us free to disagree and on those portions I do. And I do agree it was almost like someone else wrote those portions. I love the rest of it. Re: the prayers. I suspect he gave us two prayers, one for unbelieving atheist anti-Catholic mankind, and the other for Christians. Pope Francis is constantly trying to passionately engage the world. Indeed, I played the same game myself. I put tons of liberal hashtags on my tweets for this piece as well as Catholic Conservative ones. If this will help engage the world in some fashion, I'm all for it. I did door-to-door evangelization for the Catholic Church for 30 years, and that doesn't get knocked out of you. Pope Francis seems to have the same impulse. God bless you. Keep up the great blog work. Susan Fox

  4. Many parallels here with Buddhist thinking.

    A noise that spiders don't like? I'd love to know what that is. Heavy metal? Hip hop?

    Chris Woodford.