Looking forward to Pope Francis’ encyclical

Has there ever been as much anticipation for a papal pronouncement as there is now for the encyclical of Pope Francis? It is partly due to the popularity of the pope himself, but it may also have a lot to do with the subject: The Care of Creation. Great encyclicals of the past have had significant effects on the social and political life of their time, but the expectations for this papal document are literally world wide. Leaders of the major religions are looking forward to it.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called on world leaders and church leaders to “have a care for creation.” It is likely that he took the name Francis because St. Francis is considered the patron saint of creation, and his beautiful canticle about Brother Sun, Sister Moon still resonates. His concern and the coming encyclical could not be more timely, because we, in our time, have not had a care for creation. Our industrial age, with its ability to mine and extract the minerals and fossil fuels of the earth and use them to drive our industrial economy, have caused serious damage to the earth and its environment. Our polluted air and atmosphere, filled with the carbon of our factories and billions of petroleum driven vehicles; our polluted rivers and lakes, damaged with the refuse of our industrial waste; our soils poisoned with years of pesticides and fertilizers, are testament to our lack of concern for the earth on which we live. The canaries in the mine, like the bees and the butterflies, are telling us we need an awakening.

Why have we, especially in the great religious communities, not raised the alarm to a level that I hope Pope Francis can do with his coming encyclical? Can it be that we have bought into the prevailing belief about the place of the human on the planet, and for that matter, the place and purpose of religion?

As the great theologian Thomas Berry has said, we are inclined to consider the earth to be a collection of objects to be used as we see fit, rather than a community of beings, all interrelated and dependent on each other. Everything we do in any part of our country, or the planet for that matter, has an effect on everything else. We may not see it now because the effects of what we do today may not show up for several years into the future. Industrially and chemically we are now capable of creating enormous change in how the natural processes of our world work. They may, and often do, provide great immediate benefits, but, in the interests of our children and grandchildren and the generations to come, we need to balance the benefits that we reap now with the dangers they may present to future generations.

Religion, all religions, need to play a vital role in bringing us back to the sense that our earth is sacred, and that we, as apparently the latest species to come from it, with the capacity to reflect and make rational decisions, are responsible for guarding and protecting it with its millions of species. My hope is that the coming encyclical will effectively remind us of that great responsibility. Over the centuries, because of the difficulty of simply making a living with what we now consider primitive means, and because of plagues and famines, we may have come to see the earth as a difficult and sometimes inhospitable place and saw our religious beliefs and responsibilities as an escape from it. As we who live in this hemisphere see again the profusion of life springing forth from the green earth, we should see it as one great miracle. We should be inspired to cherish it and nourish it and preserve it for the generations to come.

Unfortunately, there are parts of this world that are still suffering the effects of deprivation and starvation. We also have a responsibility to them, to share our plenty and not to waste the fruits of the earth. We have just celebrated some of the great feasts of our Liturgical Year: The feast of the Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi — the Body of Christ. They remind us that our God is a God of community, of three persons in one, and that the Son of God took on this earthly body that we all share, and still shares his body and blood with us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Coming this week is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let us pray for a kind and generous heart in all of us. Let us also pray that Pope Francis will inspire all of us to have a change of heart and begin to care for creation as our sacred home here on this green planet

Pat Mulligan is a member of Sacred Heart Parish, in Camden, and a board member of The South Jersey Land and Water Trust.

Categories: As I See It, Columns

About Author