A word before I begin
I am not a Pollyanna. I am not overly optimistic, unable or unwilling to think critically (in the true sense of that word). I am also not someone who sees marxists and demons around every corner, though I do see them where they are, or I try to, and there are a good many more than some people like to believe. There are things in Laudato Si (properly spelled Laudato Si’; for ease in posting online I dropped the apostrophe) that I wish were not there, things that sound like the product of someone who grew up in a different culture in a different part of the world — which I addressed in a Tweet early on in my reading, or was it while reading the comments or perhaps the leaked document, I don’t remember now. Some of it sounds like the words of advisors whom I also wish were not anywhere near the Vatican. Alas, no one asked for my input or approval and those things got in. So I’m reading it carefully and offering comments as I go. I am not writing a dissertation, however, and this is not an academic exercise. I’m not an economist, a scientist, a theologian, or any other kind of -ist or -ian other than an amateur Catholic Christian apologist. I’m not a Pope Francis fangirl, nor am I overcome with rebellion, anger and angst. I am a lay Catholic, trying to see what is truly there, what he is really trying to say. In the past this has not always been easy. I want to reflect on it, and to respond as best I can.
Just so you know, I have peeked ahead and I found some things coming up that should prove heartening for any tempted to lose heart by what they’ve heard from others (oh, the things I’ve heard!) or what they’ve read for themselves, especially if they skimmed it, looking for things to confirm their worst fears. Some of those things may actually be there. For understanding, some things need the context before and after it, as well as the context of the faith as a whole. As Catholics we should know that. I expect Catholics to have the patience and understanding to ask questions and to seek answers, to calmly reflect, even to pray before, as, and after they read the words of our Holy Father, not just skim then doubt and shout. There are plenty already outside the Church who proceed in the latter mode, and I wish there were fewer within.
Is what Pope Francis is teaching really Catholic?
I’ve heard some people accuse Pope Francis of being a socialist, a communist, and worse. My favorite was the one (a Catholic, mind you) who yelled at him, using all caps, addressing the Pope directly on Twitter, accusing him of being a communist and telling him basically to keep his mouth shut and stick to religion, and — get this — he is not the ambassador to the world, then posed the question, who made him the ambassador to the world?
If you follow me on Twitter or even read the comments here and elsewhere around the web, you know that I could not let that slide.
Pope Francis actually IS ambassador to the world. He is the ambassador of Christ, the vicar of Christ on earth, and he receives that position by virtue of being the current successor to the Apostle Peter. Not ambassador to the world? Shut up and stick to religion? More ignorant comments from an alleged Catholic I simply cannot imagine. Or abide.
And so we come to the question for Part 2 of this series: Is what Pope Francis is teaching really Catholic?
After turning to his predecessors and to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis turns to Saint Francis beginning in paragraph 10. St. Francis is well-known and beloved both within and without the Catholic Church, but he is much misunderstood, by some in the Church, by many outside it. St. Francis would not be one of those people who loves animals more than humans, or loves animals and hates humans. He cared for ALL of creation, not just animals and including humans, and he loved God, the Creator of all those things both great and small. I would hope that people would read paragraphs 10-12 slowly and let what the Pope is saying sink in. Love creation, yes, love all creatures, yes! But love, also, mankind, and not in a general way, but each and every individual living human person. But above all, “‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”*
I have a feeling that many people skipped all these opening paragraphs. They were busy seeking their favorite heresy so they could run trumpet the news. That people would do that does not surprise me, though I was surprised by some of the people who did it. People I thought were rather more level-headed. Are there things in it that I find troubling? Yes. Will I run around screaming that the sky is falling? No.
Paragraph 11 goes further into a Franciscan integral ecology:
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.
Ah, there it is again: the emphasis on the human. The Pope never loses sight of this, even if many other people lose sight of it and even lose sight of it while they are reading the words right in front of them. Pope Francis is not talking about the ecology of radical environmentalism. If people would read on, he firmly rejects the virulently anti-human position of the radical environmental agenda. Perhaps if he had placed that section closer to the section on St. Francis, people would have noticed it. But, no, that wouldn’t have worked, they skipped the opening and probably scrolled right down to what he had to say about the climate.
In paragraph 12 Pope Francis follows St. Francis in reflecting on the book of nature, the book through which the Author Himself “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).
And this I did not know about St. Francis:
For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers 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.
In paragraphs 13-15 Pope Francis reveals why he is writing this encyclical. He’s offering an invitation to dialogue. He’s not making a solemn pronouncement on science, which is not his proper sphere and he knows that.
I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges… It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.
I hope people read this whole section, especially the ones who say he should only talk about religion and keep his mouth shut about anything else. (See above.) These are people who have bought into the secularist notion that religion is one thing and life is another and somehow the two have nothing to do with each other. Perhaps it’s not even a secularist notion but merely a notion held by those whose minds have degenerated into such a confused tangle of slogans and anger that they cannot seriously reflect on anything any more and then charity goes out the window, too. I’m not saying that one cannot criticize other people, even a Pope. I am saying that there is a way to do so that includes listening to what the other person is trying to say, making an effort to understand. People who write reviews of things before they read them are not practicing charity or even good sense.
Here’s what I think led to the Pope writing the encyclical, based on reading what he writes here, and based on what I see happening in the world, and on what little I know of goings on at the Vatican before the encyclical was released. I think he is responding to a real current of thought going through the world, a real current that is driving people to say and think and do things that are supposed to (or are allegedly supposed to) address problems but are causing more problems instead. I think he is responding to a very real current of thought that is very loud, very powerful, and very anti-human. I think he is trying to speak to these people in a way they can hear and understand, in a way that will get their attention. I think he is trying to talk some sense into them. And Lord knows, somebody needs to. Here’s why.
This is real: The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Yes, it is a little tongue in cheek, but, in the typical anti-human fashion of confusion, it’s also a little serious. And as an example of the kind of thinking that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world, it is serious, indeed. Abortion, euthanasia, population control—all part of a mindset, a worldview, that sees human beings as the problem and not the solution, as a curse and not a blessing, a plague to be wiped out instead of a gift to be cherished. (And you don’t have to take my word for it that this is a movement gathering momentum. Do a web search for transhumanism, humanity is a plague, overpopulation, or right to die, and see for yourself.)
And what is the antidote to the poison of the anti-human movement? Christ, specifically as He has been known and loved and taught by His Church for two thousand years. Christ is the answer to our questions because He is the Logos, the Word by Whom the universe was created. The world is seeking to make its own religion and that religion is radical enrivonmentalism, a religion that says there is no god but Gaia and many are the prophets who long to control us all in her name. Pope Francis is saying what the Church always has said and always must say: There is no God but God and no way to Him but through His Son and Jesus Christ is His Name. Can’t get much more Catholic than this. But many people can no longer stand to hear such words. So Pope Francis engages in what a friend of mine calls “stealth evangelization” and how I wish I had thought of that myself! (Thanks, Christopher Ziegler and Susan Fox for the conversation.)
So now Pope Francis has situated his reflection on the world and ecology in Catholic and Franciscan tradition, the lens through which he will view what scientists present to him. Is what he teaches really Catholic? Yes. So far, so good.
Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to Part 3. See you there. Peace be with you! :)
*Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mk 12:29–30). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. Those words are in quotes inside of quotes because they are the words of Jesus in Mark 12:32, quoting the words of Deuteronomy 6:5, with a slight change: He added the word “mind”. He can do that. He is the Logos, after all. The Word made flesh. The Mind of God. The Understanding by which (really, by Whom) God understands Himself. (Anybody who thinks people check their minds at the door in order to become and remain Catholic needs to think again. I invite them to spend some time reading and reflecting on what Catholicism actually teaches. I invite them to learn what thinking really means.)
**Cf. THOMAS OF CELANO, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, II, 124, 165, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, New York-London-Manila, 2000, 354.