Impressions of “Laudato Si” by Pope Francis

The Gospel of Matthew begins with that most Jewish of literary creations, the genealogy.

And it ends with news that we are never alone

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:16-20

mountains near galilee

And He is with us. We meet him in the Eucharist. We meet Him at the Tabernacle. We meet Him where believers gathers.

And He is with us. He is with the poor. And He is with us when we eat and drink, because He eats and He drinks

His appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” (Mt 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world. (L.S. 98)

wedding at cana

He is with us as man and woman, because he created us as man and woman

Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it (L.S. 155 )

And He is with us when we see the stars and the sea monsters, because He created the stars and the sea monsters are His pets.

The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Ps 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Ps 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him. (L.S. 72)

killer whale in alaska

But this is what the poor see when they look up at the stars

beijing-mask-aunties

This is what the poor see when they go to the waters to see His sea monsters

WaterPollution_4Web

The newest architecture in my city, the beautiful offices and apartment buildings of South Lake Union

1200px-South_Lake_Union_cityscape

But that is not what Francis is writing about:

It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. (L.S. 113)

But that is the architecture of the age in Beijing, in Shanghai, in Bangkok, in Mumbai, in the great megacities of the world.

Beijing_smog_comparison_August_2005

Throughout the encyclical the Holy Father references Francis of Assisi, who cared for the poor and the environment

I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace. ( L.S. 10 )

St_Francis_394233c

The poor most impacted by the environment are not the poor of the West, with blue skies and green hills and stars at night, but those of the rapidly developing world. Many countries have leaped at the opportunity for wealth. But (like during the early industrial revolution in our countries) this is done at the cost of polluting the public goods, the skies and the waters.

Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature. (L.S. 44)

The factories, owned by run by the corrupt, pollute the cities and hide the sky

Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others. ( L.S. 20 )

Within the developing countries, the government has the primary responsibility of making the right choices. And many of these decisions are choices — simply bad choices — by local governments to prioritize officials and real estate developers over citizens.

Officials in developing countries have an obligation to help the poor, and often helping the poor means letting them see the blue sky, breathe the clean air, and swim in the clean water.

But we in the rich world can help too. When men like Elon Musk work on solar power and batteries, they are doing God’s work

For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. At the same time, they need to acknowledge the scandalous level of consumption in some privileged sectors of their population and to combat corruption more effectively. They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources, but in a way which respects their concrete situations, since “the compatibility of [infrastructures] with the context for which they have been designed is not always adequately assessed”. The costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change. In any event, these are primarily ethical decisions, rooted in solidarity between all peoples. (L.S. 172)

solarpower-africa-eight19-thatchedroof3

The reason is that true economic growth is based an improvement in the quality of life, not a mere increase in quantity of specific things. We are not truly richer because we have more buggie whips. We are richer because we do not need buggy whips at all. We will not be richer if we sell more cars: we will be richer when self-driving cars are so common that it is inefficient to purchase one. We will be not be richer when dig up more coal: we will be richer when electricity is too cheap to meter.

This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed”. (L.S. 106)

But it’s important to remember that improvement in quality is not in everyone’s interests. In advanced industries the means of production are often given away. The most successful phone operating systmes in the world are built on top of operating systems that everyone can use for free: iOS (built on top of BSD Unix) and Android (built on top of Linux).

But less advanced countries are not there yet. In places like China,
One way to influence these developing countries are treaties. No one seriously believes the rich countries do not care about their own environment. But how can they help the poor? When was the last time you heard the human dignity of living under a blue sky mentioned by an American official in China?

Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention. Relations between states must be respectful of each other’s sovereignty, but must also lay down mutually agreed means of averting regional disasters which would eventually affect everyone. Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries. (L.S. 173)

chinese-wind-turbine

The Helsinki Accords were a useful tool for reminding the world the Soviet Union did not properly respect human rights. How can we similarly remind the world that when China, that when India, that when Brazil speak in front of the world, they do so on the backs of their poor?

The west has helped bring so much good to the world with the wonders of technology that Francis praises.  Can a Pope once again help improve the lives of much of the world?

18 Nov 1990, Vatican City, Rome, Italy --- Soviet Premier Gorbachev visits the Pope at the Vatican. He is in Rome to talk with government officials and to receive his Fiuggi prize. --- Image by © Reuters/CORBIS
18 Nov 1990, Vatican City, Rome, Italy — Soviet Premier Gorbachev visits the Pope at the Vatican. He is in Rome to talk with government officials and to receive his Fiuggi prize. — Image by © Reuters/CORBIS

America, and the western developed countries have beautiful environment that beautify the world of everyone, rich and poor alike. We do this thru our economy thru our laws, thru our civic society and our volunteers

Not everyone is called to engage directly in political life. Society is also enriched by a countless array of organizations which work to promote the common good and to defend the environment, whether natural or urban. Some, for example, show concern for a public place (a building, a fountain, an abandoned monument, a landscape, a square), and strive to protect, restore, improve or beautify it as something belonging to everyone. Around these community actions, relationships develop or are recovered and a new social fabric emerges. ( L.S. 232 )

But not only volunteers in parks serve God by helping the poor enjoy a beautiful home.

Our scientists and engineers, who make wonderful inventions, do too.

Our businessmen, male and female, who create newer and happier industries, do too.

And our negotiators and diplomats have a role too.

When I travel in those new megacities I wonder, how can anyone live like this?

Thank God we have a Father who sees this problem too.

Francis ends with a prayer. Let me conclude this post by praying aloud the last few lines

O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!

Amen.

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