The internet is ripe with criticism of Pope Francis’s public speaking topics.
“I wish he’d talk more about abortion.”
“What about contraception?”
“Why isn’t he talking about gay marriage?”
More specifically, the criticism all circles around the same thing: we want a pope who reinforces our countercultural beliefs; who chastises the world and reiterates the damage of the sins of abortion and contraception. One who reinforces our beliefs that marriage is unchangeably reserved as between one man and one woman in unity with Christ. Pope Francis has reinforced those concepts, but not as forcefully as we all feel we need and want. Even worse, the media wants so badly to love Pope Francis and see him as a beacon of change that they will misquote and misinterpret just about anything he says.
With all that, it’s understandable that some might have been less than pleased with Laudato Si, the first encyclical by Pope Francis that has produced. Full of commentary on topics ranging from climate change, capitalism and economics to poverty, property ownership, and the pitfalls of technology, Laudato Si challenges the faithful to take stronger ownership of our role in the care and keeping of our Earth and fellow man. And indeed, this even was a strong focus at His Holiness’s most recent visit to Congress (see the transcript of the speech here).
How can we care about recycling or emissions when babies are being slaughtered in the womb and the Little Sisters of the Poor are attacked for refusing to provide free birth control in their healthcare plan?
The fact is, we’ve all known abortion as a sin for eons. Love and Responsibility clearly states that contraception and disordered sexual relations (as is the case with intimacies of a homosexual nature) are sinful. An encyclical on the matter provided clarity at the time, but didn’t change the culture. A new encyclical on the same topic is unlikely to have a change. But this is the first modern encyclical on caring for our Earth. Ignoring the misuse and even abuse of our planet carries repercussions that will not go away, even while we battle for the safety and livelihood of the unborn and marriage.
So, I propose a question: Is caring for our Earth a bad thing? Indeed, we can all agree it is not. So what motivates the visceral reaction against Pope Francis’s chosen encyclical topic? I submit that the answer generally is pride. Many of us are frustrated and hurt by the comments from our communities about our family sizes, our defense of marriage in the face of an increasingly hostile culture, and our value of the unborn. We want backup. We want the message that we see the world needs. In our pride, we think we know better what needs to be said than the Pope.
I’ve heard many times the world described as a battle ground for souls. To extend the analogy, Pope Francis’s position is similar to that of a general, guiding the ground troops of faithful Catholics on how to bring souls for Christ. The troops on the ground in a battle know the battle they see, but they do not have the whole picture. Indeed, even the general does not have the power to predict the outcome, but can see with better clarity what needs to be done to win the fight. Pope Francis sees an area where we need to improve and where we can draw souls in to God to share in His mercy and love.
Similarly, when my husband and I recently moved, we bought a home with a generous backyard that was in serious disrepair. Patches of grass were gone, moss was flourishing, pavers lined a previously abandoned garden where a swing set belonged, and there were a multitude of trees preventing sunlight from enriching the plants below. There are trees in our yard that ought to be cut to better keep our home safe and improve the landscape, but doing so is costly and not in the budget right now. But we have been able to improve the grass, put in a raised bed garden, move the pavers, and overall clean up the yard. Our work didn’t stop on peripheral things just because the tree cutting couldn’t be done this year.
As such, our responsibility to care for our Earth and for the poor does not stop simply because we haven’t won the fight against the major life and marriage issues of today. Our work on those can and should still persevere, but making simple changes can help adopt the spirit of Laudato Si in our daily lives. And in working on the care of our world and of our fellow man, we can bring others to Christ and lead them to His holy Church.
Listed below are ten practical ways we can help our world and fellow man in the spirit of Laudato Si :
Lower your thermostat and water heater temperatures, and raise your air conditioner temperature. We are a society that loves comfort. But that comfort is expensive and energy wasting. So, be just slightly less comfortable, and you can save big on energy bills and environmental resources.
Recycle. We all know we should, but many don’t. Look into your town’s recycling center and services, and make plans to do it. Many towns will do curbside pickup on trash days of recycling materials, so there is less an excuse not to jump on the recycling bandwagon.
Buy used. When possible, buy used items. It will save you money, and you will reuse something that someone didn’t need anymore, reducing the resources you need and consume.
Fix rather than replace. Rather than chucking a broken toy or appliance, first figure out if there is a way to fix it. Most of us do this simply to save money, but it is a small way to preserve resources and consume less.
Be content without more, even if you have the means for better. And if you have the means for better, use the excess to bless others. This one is very difficult for many of us, myself included. Who doesn’t love to have nice things? But truly, we don’t need the bigger TV. We don’t need rooms full of toys. But our neighbor may need food; a child might need clothes; a local organization might need money or hand-me-downs. Bless your community with charitable giving.
Discern needs from wants. This goes along with being content. We don’t need lots of artwork or knick-knacks, or even lots of vacations (and souvenirs to remember it by). Do we need a larger home, or is it simply something we want? Minimalism is “in” these days, so embrace it; it’s one of the few modern trends we as Catholics can and probably should get behind.
Have children use the backside of printed paper, and use both sides of a page when drawing/coloring. This is a simple but effective way to teach children about limited resources and using them wisely.
Be kind to foreigners and immigrants. When you encounter someone who speaks English poorly, be patient, even offer assistance. Don’t mock accents or hinge your charity on how someone came to this country or whether they are a contributing member of society. We need to show love to one another, regardless of our background.
Get out of debt and avoid debt when possible. This comes as part of responsible ownership of resources. If we constantly need more, and use debt to get it, we lie to ourselves about the limits of our own resources. Having debt is not necessarily shameful, but we should be cautious about it, and aim to avoid it. And in doing so, we will help our neighbors to use their own resources prudently by now contributing to the keeping up with the Joneses.
Unplug. One aspect of Laudato Si is the concern of how technology is unplugging us from real relationships and providing us a shield to hide behind. If you find yourself logging into social media several times a day, playing games, etc, take a break. If it is a big temptation, as habits often are, have your spouse change your password. You will marvel at how life comes together in peace and how much closer you can get to God if you decide to reduce internet use to the tool it is meant to be as, not the time-wasting and life-wasting venture it has become.
We all can do our part to make the world we live in a better place. We can all love one another and the earth God gave us, and show Him how much we value and respect His gifts.