May 24 marked the five-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home). And five years later, we have much yet to learn from this important contribution to the Church’s social teaching tradition. In writing this encyclical, the Holy Father desires to call our attention to the beauty of creation, our place in it, the damage we have inflicted on creation, and the path to restoring our common home in accord with the desires of the One Who created her. While there is much that can be pondered in this encyclical, I humbly offer some brief takeaways for consideration.
Creation as Gift. In a stark and straightforward manner, Pope Francis writes: “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.” Creation is itself a gift of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As part of creation, we are not masters of creation. Instead, as the text of Genesis describes, we are stewards of creation. We tend the gift of creation. We are called to preserve creation, while at the same time called to exercise dominion over it. And, as the Gospels make clear through parables, the steward is called to account for their care over the gift entrusted to them.
The Mystery of Christ and the Mystery of Creation. Pope Francis recounts that “[f]rom the beginning of the world, but particularly through the incarnation, the mystery of Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole[.]”
In Christ, Who was present at creation, we find the way and truth for caring for creation. As Pope Francis shares, “The Lord was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder.”
In an age consumed by technology, the ability to be attentive to creation (rather than our smartphone) is a challenge. But it is not a challenge unique to our own age. Christ, too, invited His earliest disciples to ponder the beautiful depth of creation and the divinity it reveals. To this effect, the Holy Father quotes John 4:35 (“Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest”) and Matthew 13:31-32 (“The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but once it has grown, it is the greatest of plants.”).
As Pope Francis reflects, Christ was “in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder” and “often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father.”
Reverence for Creation: The Way of a Saint. Underlying the encyclical is a devotion to St. Francis, who deeply revered creation. In fact, the opening words of the encyclical are those of St. Francis: “Praise be to you, my Lord.” Pope Francis notes that “Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically…. [He] lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself…and shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”
Creation & Justice. Love for creation not only entails a love for God, Who is the Creator, but it entails a love for our brothers and sisters. Love has implications for the just ordering of society, for the political, economic, and cultural norms that must be established in order that the gift of creation can be handed onto the next generation of stewards. To this end, as Pope Francis states, “a true ecological approach… must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment[.]”
These debates must take into consideration, in particular way, the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.” The Holy Father, covering a range of issues, notes how our skewed understanding of the environment can have detrimental impacts in the areas of topics like climate change, gender theory, the contraceptive mentality, water contamination, among many others.
In all, care of our common home is no simple task. It is a complex task, but a task that can be undertaken with the help of Christ and His Church. As we enter another year of contemplating the Holy Father’s encyclical, we should continuously seek to find new ways that we can live out care for God’s creation, as desired by God from the beginning of creation.