Reading Laudato Si was like falling in love. For my husband and me, it brought back memories of the exciting early mornings of twelve years ago. Newly enraptured with Catholic teaching, we would rise early with a pot of coffee and our books – him with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and me with conversion stories and documents – and read. We would interrupt each other with questions and comments and check Bible verses and history books for accuracy. Our hearts burned within us, full of the ardor of new love. We were both exhilarated and a tad fearful over the intense emotions and the direction we knew we must follow. So it was last month when we began our pope’s encyclical. The theology is profound, the science clear, the passion contagious, and the summon to change certain. Love again. How should we then live?
Pope Francis is a pastor concerned about his people, those of us lucky enough to read his words in a book or on a computer, and especially those terribly poor that make up the majority of the planet’s population. They are the ones who suffer first and worst from this “throwaway culture” where sin has broken harmony and where there is pervading disrespect for God, humanity, and His gift of our earth. We agreed that our children should know what their papa wrote, should begin to consider their own lives as lovers of Jesus and others, and should imagine possibilities for their young responsibilities. We had to pass on our devotion. As we pored over every word, we began to highlight sentences to share with the kids for morning prayers.
Most mornings, we gather together after chores and breakfast to pray for the Fourteen P’s, a list of requests that, over the years, we’ve managed to finagle all beginning with “P” (pope, president, priest, papa, pets, etc.). I also read something: perhaps a passage of Scripture or prayer to memorize, sometimes a saint’s biography or section of the children’s catechism. Now, it is short, child-sized teachings from Laudato Si.
“Nature is a book in which God speaks to us and grants us glimpses of His beauty and goodness” (from the introduction). Asking them to “read God’s book of nature” quickly turned to prickly questions about the goodness and beauty of a nasty lake leech that recently tormented our toddler and the distressing death of one of our goat babies. What does God want us to know of Him as we live and play and weep in our woods and small hobby farm? Since my husband and I had already read it, we could point out later sentences on functioning ecosystems requiring fungi, worms, and microorganisms and Pope Francis’ reminder that all creatures give glory to God their own way. So we take care of each other, we take care of baby goats, and we take care of the earth because we are precious gifts together.
We told them that Pope Francis wrote about pollution and called the Amazon and Congo River basins, “the lungs of our planet (from chapter one).” This led to a little science lesson about photosynthesis, our own lungs, and what a marvelous analogy that is. He also wrote about mental pollution and how digital omnipresence can stop people from living wisely, thinking deeply, and loving generously by shielding us from direct contact with real relationships. One of God’s attributes is omnipresence and it is disconcerting to see it used with such a dead word as “digital.” But omnipresent it is. The children were surprisingly passionate in their vows not to ask to play on my device so often. We narrowed their austere plans down to set times and they promised to allow a younger sibling to watch, presumably to remain relational.
Robert Frost penned, “We love the things we love for what they are” and we love our Church for being the teaching authority set in place by Our Lord (John 16:13). We willingly, happily place ourselves and our children under that Truth and boldly change our lives. It is a love like no other.