Laudato Si’: Integral Ecology

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


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