Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment, has gone through the media machine and been processed as either a brilliant manifesto on the environment that is misguided because it doesn’t face the need for population control, or a Marxist tract that is going to hinder economic growth by someone who should keep out of politics.
It is neither. Instead, it is a dialogue between the truths of Christianity and the current problems of environmental damage. It doesn’t really matter if you are a climate change activist or a climate change denier, this document applies to everyone.
The pope links environmental damage to our mindset that: 1. nature is there to be used; 2. the more we buy, the happier we’ll be; and 3. we are free as long as we have a choice of what to buy. He shows us that we live in a throwaway culture. We pile up garbage, use up natural resources, abort babies and abandon the poor.
We can’t reform by picking one of those things to change. Everything is connected. We will care for the environment when we care for the poor, and we will care for the poor when we learn to care for the environment. Pope Francis calls on us as educators to develop an ethics of ecology, to show students these connections and help them grow in responsibility and care for both the environment and the poor.
As a Benedictine institution, it was great to see a shout-out to our man, St. Benedict. “This way of experiencing work makes us more protective and respectful of the environment; it imbues our relationship with the world with a healthy sobriety” (126). St. Benedict showed us the way. We need to live up to our hallmarks, especially stewardship, stability and community.
The pope calls all Christian communities to “a responsible simplicity of life, in grateful contemplation of God’s world, and in concern for the needs of the poor and the protection of the environment” (214). This describes how the “Rule of St. Benedict” orders a community. The primary responsibility of the monks is praise of the loving Creator. Work is done to support the community and the poor who look to the monastery for help. Since the vow of stability means the monastery will always be in one place, the monks practice stewardship of the land.
If we want to take the environmental crisis seriously and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, we would do well to recognize, as the pope says, that “The ecological conversion needed to bring about a lasting change is also a community conversion” (219).
We’re all in this together. Benedictine University has made a great start on an ecological conversion through the “Years for the Environment” initiative. Jean-Marie Kauth, Ph.D., the driving force behind the initiative, was ahead of her time. Looking around the campus, we can see changes that we are making as a community to be part of the solution. Laudato Si’ encourages us to keep going.
Throughout the coming year, there will be events to read and discuss the encyclical. We invite all members of our community to attend.
— Christine Fletcher, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology