We have been exploring Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, trying to discern what he his trying to say. One thing is clear: the press doesn’t get it.
The Pope speaks about an integral ecology, which includes all aspects of life. As he writes:
“My predecessor Benedict XVI… observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since ‘the book of nature is one and indivisible,’ and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that ‘the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence’” (Laudato Si’, 6 quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 51)
Since nature is one, it not only includes the environment, but also human sexuality, and the family. That is why this encyclical is so important: it speaks to us about the moral dimension of our actions towards the environment, towards other human beings, and towards God. It is extremely comprehensive. As the Pope confirms later: “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment” (Laudato Si’, 155). He then goes on to quote Pope Benedict XVI again, telling us “that ‘man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will’… [because our body] establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings” (ibid.).
So, living a moral life is nothing else that respecting the environment; and one cannot respect the environment without respecting God, his plan for the earth, and the moral law he has established. So, an integral ecology means:
“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. 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’” (ibid.).
If we don’t respect our body as it has been created by God, with its femininity or masculinity, then we do not respect the environment. If we don’t respect sexuality as reserved between a man and woman in marriage, then we do not respect the environment. Likewise, if we do not respect life from conception to natural death, then we do not respect the environment:
“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? ‘If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away’ (Laudato Si´, 120, quoting Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 28).
Can one make it any clearer? Let us praise God in his wonderful creation: “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore–Praise be to you, my Lord.” Let us praise God’s moral wisdom presented to us in this wonderful encyclical!
Fr. John R. Waiss
One way to better understand what Pope Francis is saying in his latest Encyclical on the environment is to look at how he quotes it throughout his recent trip to this country. In his various discourses the Pope not only addressed Catholics in the United States, but also government officials from this country and the world, often referencing the Encyclical, Laudato Si’. At the Mass concluding his trip, the Pope asks: “What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)?” He then tells us that protecting our common home:
“Includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion, not division! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!” (Closing Homily, September 27, 2015).
When considering the environment, we need to think about what kind of world we are handing on to our children and to future generations. Will we have overcome divisions in order to develop a world in which nature’s beauty flourishes? Or will we leave a world filled with destructive environmental waste (such as what we inherited in the Gold King mine, which was abandoned in 1991 but leaked millions of gallons of toxic waste into the river last August)? These problems “can no longer be left to a future generation,” Pope Francis said to our President in the Welcoming Ceremony (September 23).
The Pope is not against business, but sees business as “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Sí, 129, quoted when addressing Congress, September 24). Yet when individuals and businesses are irresponsible, “guided only by ambition for wealth and power,” disregarding God and his moral law in the misused of creation, then environmental destruction ensues (Address to the United Nations, September 25). He continued: “The poorest are those who suffer most… for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste’” (ibid.) Such irresponsibility also leads to social fragmentation, increasing the risk for world conflicts.
Pope Francis encourages us to make a serious effort to change, to create a “culture of care,” directing technology and development intelligently, not only to protect nature but also to combat poverty, and restore human dignity (cf. Address to the US Congress, September 24). While human beings are part of the environment, we have a dignity that transcends the physical and biological: “Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity” (Address to the United Nations, September 25).
Although it is hard, we need each other and to be responsible for each other (cf. Canonization Homily for Blessed Junípero Serra, September 23). To do this, we can count on our loving Creator who is in charge of our common home. He won’t forsake us, but moves us to work together to care responsibly for this common home (cf. Welcoming Ceremony, September 23).
The Pope is reminding us that our actions and decisions impact other people and future generations. Let us act responsibly, reflecting our God-given dignity and respecting the value and beauty of the world he has given us.
So, let us learn how to listen to Pope Francis and to the Holy Spirit who guides him.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Pope Francis recently wrote an Encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home. Some praise it while others condemn it; both do so because it supposedly supports liberal causes. But are they reading it correctly? What did the Pope intend to say through it?
The best way to answer those questions—as we learned last week—is by looking at the broader context of his words. We can look at what sources he references to discern what texts he was reading in a reflective way when he wrote the document.
Scripture seems to be the principal source he used. In the document, Pope Francis quotes or cites 67 passages of the Bible, 42 from the Old Testament and 25 from the New. This was the most often referenced source in his document.
Quite frequently the Pope also references previous Magisterium, including Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes, 5 documents of Blessed Pope Paul VI, 19 documents of St. John Paul II, 9 documents of Pope Benedict XVI, 5 of his own documents, especially Evangelii Gaudium which he wrote with his predecessor. He also references 15 points of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
The Pope also reflected on the documents of his fellow bishops from around the world who have studied the environmental issues. He references bishop’s conferences from Argentina (and a letter of the bishops of the Patagonia-Comahue Region of Argentina), Asian, Australian, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Germany, Japan, Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, Portugal, Southern Africa, and of the United States.
Meditating and reflecting on the writings of the saints also played a big role in preparing this document. Not only does Pope Francis reflect on St. Francis of Assisi (from which its title comes) but also St. Basil the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. John of the Cross, St. Justin, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Vincent Of Lerins. He also used a few other Catholic sources, such as Dante and Romano Guardini, while reaching out to our Christian brethren by citing Patriarch Bartholomew and Protestant philosopher Paul Ricoeur. Likewise he reached out to all people of goodwill by referencing a few secular sources: the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of the United Nation and to the Earth Charter.
So, Pope Francis wrote a document of deep personal and Catholic reflection. We should read it in the same manner. Those who read it differently, thinking the Pope is doing science or economics, are misreading him. In fact, on his flight to United States, a reporter asked him: groups in the US… questioned whether the Pope was Catholic…. There has already been talk about a “communist Pope”… What do you think about this? Pope Francis replied:
“A Cardinal friend of mine told me that a woman came to him, very worried… and she asked him if it was true that in the Bible there is talk of an antichrist. And he explained it to her… And then, she asked if it were true that there is talk of an antipope… “But why are you asking me this?”, the Cardinal asked. “Because I am sure that Pope Francis is the antipope.” “And why…where did you get this idea?” “Because he doesn’t wear red shoes!” That’s how it is, in history… the causes for wondering whether one is a communist or not…. I am certain that I have not said anything beyond the Social Doctrine of the Church…I don’t believe I have said anything that isn’t the Social Teaching of the Church. One can explain things. Maybe an explanation gave the impression of leaning a little to the “left”, but that would be an erroneous interpretation. No. My teaching on all of this, on Laudato Sí, on economic imperialism and all that, is from the Church’s Social Doctrine. And if it is necessary that I recite the “Creed,” I am ready to do it!”
So, let us learn how to listen to Pope Francis and to the Holy Spirit who guides him.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Pope Francis is called to be the shepherd of the universal flock of the Church. We are “the sheep [who] hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).
Some people still struggle to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in Pope Francis. At times the Pope makes provocative statements that the press or others twist for their own interests. This shouldn’t surprise us, as the Scribes and Pharisees twisted our Lord’s provocative statements to trap him and crucify him. Others did the same with St. Paul: “There are some things in [St. Paul’s writings] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
During the Synod on the Family, let us not be falsely scandalized by news reports, but learn to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Learning to Listen
To get us to think, Pope Francis makes provocative statements, as did our Lord. When statements are predictable, we keep following the same trajectory. When we hear something unexpected, we stop to think; we need to think, because this is why God gave us an intellect.
How do we listen to think? How do we listen to think? This is a challenge. First, is don’t expect the press and special interest groups to know what the Pope is really saying—often they only hear what they want to hear. When you hear something that sounds odd, read what the Pope actually said. For example, we’ve all heard that the Pope said: “If someone is gay, who am I to judge?” The Pope said this in an interview flying from Brazil to Rome, after a reporter asked the Pope about a priest-appointee accused of being gay. The Pope described the investigation that found nothing. Then the Pope said: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way.”
So, the Pope tells us to follow the Catechism, which calls all of us to live chastity:
“Homosexual persons are called to chastity… The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2359,58).
So, besides reading the Pope’s actual words, we must also put the words in context: in the context of his other teachings, as well as in the context of Church teaching. The authority also depends on the type of statement. An interview has no magisterial authority, just as Christ harshly rejected Peter’s private comments: “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). In contrast, a statement of an official encyclical letter has true magisterial authority.
Another way to better listen to the Pope is to note how he repeats a phrase. For example, the Pope has often expressed that the Church is a “field hospital.” He first said this in an interview but then has gone on to repeat it in various homilies and discourses. This helps us to see the broader meaning of a provocative statement. Likewise he has repeated that gossip is a terrorist act because it sets off “bombs” that destroy people’s lives and reputations.
Let us continue to learn how to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd in our Holy Father so as to follow Christ more closely.
Fr. John R. Waiss
The Synod is assisting Pope Francis with a pastoral plan to evangelize the world through the family. Let us support him with our prayers and keep faith that the Holy Spirit will actively guide the whole Church through these turbulent waters.
Sins Against the Spirit
Sin has been the subject of recent notes. What many find disturbing is our Lord’s mention of a sin that will not be forgiven:
“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven… whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).
The thought of an unforgivable sin is scary. Have I committed such a sin? Am I doomed?
So what is “blasphemy against the Spirit”? First consider the context. Jesus had just exorcised a man possessed by a demon that made him blind and dumb (Matthew 12:22ss); this amazed the people. The Scribes and Pharisees reacted differently, accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan (Beelzebul) to cast out demons. After showing them the absurdity of their position, Jesus condemns them for their “blasphemy against the Spirit.”
You see, after being instructed in the Scriptures, God ordained the Scribes and Pharisees with a special authority to teach the people and “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). By this authority the Holy Spirit guided them to know that Jesus fulfilled the Scripture foretelling the great Prophet and Messiah. But Jesus fulfilled those Scriptures in a way they neither expected nor wanted.
Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit and acknowledging Jesus’ messiahship, the Scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of being from the devil. They rejected the Spirit’s inspiration and blasphemed against him by saying the opposite. Later, when they ask Jesus by what authority he works the miracles he works, he agrees to tell them on the condition that they would answer one question: “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” They argued: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,” we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered: “We do not know.” (Matthew 21:23-27). Thus they chose not to acknowledge the Spirit’s inspiration; so our Lord refuses to respond to their question. They are not open.
In this context, then, to blaspheme against the Spirit is to reject and speak contrary to a truth that one has the God-given authority to discern. This would especially true for bishops and priests, but could apply to others in authority. Consider those who speak against Pope Francis, such as calling him a Marxist: they almost seem to be calling him, Beelzebul. Perhaps they do so in ignorance, so let’s let God judge this one.
The Church expands its understanding of sins against the Holy Spirit to include sins against hope, such as refusing God’s mercy:
“There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864).
Also those who think they need no mercy sin against hope: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Let us humbly trust in our Lord’s mercy and always be attentive to those quiet little inspirations of the Holy Spirit to pray, serve others, and follow Christ’s example of self-giving.
We are looking for volunteers to help with the planning of the Restoration of St. Mary of the Angels Church. Especially needed are those with architectural, engineering, and construction experience to help with recommendations. Please email or call the parish if you are interested.
Fr. John R. Waiss