Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LAUDATO SI’. Last week I promised to report back to you after I had read Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si’. The document is dense, so I’m still working to understand it. But let me give you some preliminary reactions.
Difficult Style. The encyclical has received conflicting reactions from people of various theological and political stripes. Part of this is because folks are tending to focus on those parts that appeal to them and ignore or downplay other parts. But I think the main reason for these varied interpretations is the style of the document. Many people comment on how readable it is, as the Holy Father uses his typically straightforward and simple language. But while this might make the document more readable, it seems to lead to some ambiguity, i.e., common language can be imprecise language. Which in turn allows people to interpret some parts to their own liking.
Another aspect of the style is that it switches back and forth between explaining Church teaching and giving prudential judgments, without clearly making distinctions. In addition, typical of Francis’ outgoing style, the document often makes use of many generalizations and hyperboles. Furthermore, this style seems to lead to several apparent self-contradictions. For example, paragraph 188 states, “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions,” and yet many of its conclusions are based on presuming certain scientific questions are settled. Paragraph 189 invites “a frank dialogue,” but the document’s strong language often seems to discourage dialogue on many commonly debated issues.
All of this can lead to confusion. Now, this is not to criticize the document or the Pope, just to try to explain why there are such mixed interpretations. Moreover, this may be intentional: popes have been known to write in ways that are simultaneously both obscure and forceful to call attention to a problem while still leaving the Church room for development, clarification and discussion.
Church Doctrine. Regardless of the various interpretations given, the document does clearly intend to make certain fundamental points, including:
— The environment is not an accident of the Big Bang and evolution: it is created by the Creator, God, and so has a dignity and purpose that we must neither ignore or abuse.
— The environment is not a god itself to be worshipped.
— There is a natural law, a way things are created to be, that applies to all of creation, including Man himself.
— Man is unique in creation, created in God’s image, “endowed with intelligence and love, and given dominion over creation.
— Man’s dominion is not that of a tyrant, but of a steward.
— Any cohesive understanding of ecology has to include respect for the dignity of human beings, including unborn babies, and the real physical differences between males and females.
— The environment is our “common home” meant to be shared in some equitable fashion, by all human beings.
— Abuse of our common home is unjust to others, including future generations.
— Reduction in the number of human beings on earth (population control) is never a solution to our problems.
— Whatever we do that effects the environment, we must always be concerned for its effects on the poor.
Prudential Judgments. The document, however also clearly presents many conclusions the Holy Father has reached relating to the environment. As Catholics we must respectfully and carefully consider the Pope’s considered judgments. It is, however, not necessary that we agree or obey them. Moreover, popes have authority to teach definitively in matters of faith and morals, but they have no authority to teach definitely, for example, on science or economics. (Note: Popes can apply their authority in faith and morals to teach definitively on the moral implications of particular practices of science or economics (etc.), e.g., the popes have authoritatively condemned the scientific practice of in-vitro fertilization because it involves immoral acts).
In Laudato Si’, when it comes to science, politics and economics, the Pope seems to make mainly prudential judgments. But he makes some of them very forcefully, including:
— The science of “global warming” (not merely “climate change”) is settled, the earth is warming and it will lead to large scale environmental and human catastrophe.
— Man is responsible for global warming.
— The devastating effects of global warming will have a hugely disproportionate effect on the poor.
— The current economic system (dominated by “the unregulated market”), greedy businesses (especially multinational corporations), and consumerism are key parts of the problem.
— The environment is in terrible shape and will only get worse (“The earth…is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”).
— Global laws must be enacted to stop climate change and restructure the economic system.
— Terrible poverty and mass immigration is caused by abuse of the environment.
— Technology is largely not the solution, it is largely part of the problem.
Again, we must respectfully and carefully consider these prudential judgments, but they are not “church teaching, and we are free to disagree with them.
I’m sorry for such a cursory review; I still have a lot more work to do. But I take comfort in knowing that many people smarter than me are also struggling to fully understand it. Let us pray for them and one another that we may all, with filial devotion to our Holy Father, understand how this important document should affect our lives. God bless Pope Francis!
CHARLESTON. Last Wednesday, June 17, nine of our brothers and sisters in Christ were shot down during a Bible Study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. As I first heard about the story I couldn’t help but think, “what if that had happened at St. Raymond’s?” But in a way, it did. Because we are all one “body of Christ…” “If one member suffers, all suffer together…” (1 Cor. 12: 27, 26). It is obvious that there was a racial element to the shooting. But I was so edified to see so many of our brethren at Emanuel speak of the forgiveness and love of Christ afterwards. This is the path to unity in our nation. Not a false unity imposed by fear or coercion, but the unity that flows from our common sonship, in Christ, to our one heavenly Father.
Let us pray for the conversion of our nation, for the comforting our brethren at Emanuel, and for the repose of the souls of our brethren in Christ: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.
FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM CONTINUES. We continue our observance of the “Fortnight for Freedom” to pray for the protection of Religious Liberty, through July 4 (Independence Day). I have been edified and pleased so many join us at our nightly holy hours at the church. Please join us this week! See the schedule in this bulletin.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles