Encyclical on the Environment

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

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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