Those of you who follow my blog know that every so often I come back to issues of Church and faith. Over the years I’ve developed my own eclectic brand of spirituality, but my Catholic roots remain strong. In many ways I continue to take pride in what I consider the best of the Catholic tradition: service to those in need, commitment to establishing a just and peaceful society, compassion and love for one’s neighbor, and openness to an evolving understanding of scripture, which the Catholic Church aptly calls the Living Word of God.
As a young girl attending Catholic grade school, I tried to be flawless in my devotion even though I was decidedly progressive in my thoughts. I entertained many fantasies about the future of my beloved Church. For example, I dared to imagine that one day I would witness the ordination of women into the priesthood. While women have become ministers in other denominations, the Catholic male hierarchy remains as entrenched as it was in my youth, committed to its millennial, decidedly sexist choke-hold on religious authority.
But I digress. The point is, as a girl I had some crazy ideas as to what Catholicism might look like at the beginning of the third millennium (crazy in the sense of innocent, not unreasonable). Yet I never never imagined that one day I might find myself defending the Pope against conservative members of the Republican Party. Catholicism and Republicanism went hand-in-hand in my family. You simply couldn’t have one without the other. And that they would ever be in disagreement was inconceivable.
Last week, that reality was turned upside down. Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical Laudato si’. Suddenly the conservative movement, which has been digging themselves into a hole through blind insistence on stamping down the science behind our understanding of climate change, felt like they’d been hung out to dry by one of the most important figures of religious moral authority in the world.
I must say, that was a refreshing change.
I fear, though, that in the race to declare themselves “for” or “against” the Pope’s encyclical, very few people actually read what he wrote. And as often happens, the core message was misrepresented by people on both sides of the debate.
Laudato si’ is not really about global climate change. True, Pope Francis mentions this along with a long (and rather depressing) list of maladies affecting our planet. But his true message runs so much deeper than a single environmental challenge or the politics that plague it.
Pope Francis’s message is about the moral dimensions of human activity. He urges us to remember our compassion for each other and for the planet on which we depend. He invites us to a dialogue across every imaginable – and imaginary – boundary we have created: political, economic, religious, environmental, social, technological, even artistic.
Throughout the encyclical, the Pope painstakingly demonstrates how his arguments are firmly grounded in the faith and theological traditions of the Church. There is nothing new here. He simply brings a rich body of teaching together in one document, and invites us to reflect and act upon the consequences of our most fundamental responsibilities toward all of Creation.
It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone who spoke out against the encyclical last week actually read it. There may be some points of argument that certain readers would take issue with, but to claim the Pope doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or has no authority to speak on these matters, indicates ignorance regarding the contents of the encyclical, or worse, a complete lack of moral sensibility and compassion. Certainly anyone who holds the fundamental tenets of Christianity and the Catholic tradition dear cannot turn his or her back on the central message so eloquently delivered in Laudato si’.
Before you listen any further to the media debates, I encourage you to read the Pope’s encyclical for yourself. I believe it may be the single most important religious document of this century, and it deserves everyone’s attention.
Laudato si’ can be read on line or downloaded for free from the Vatican web site. I’ve seen it mentioned that the encyclical runs 200 pages; but my pdf copy is only 84 pages long. (I don’t know where the 200 number comes from, but I worry that the reputed length has discouraged a lot of people from going to the original source material and forming an educated opinion of their own.) The encyclical is very well written; the language very accessible. It inspires us, in the way that only the best of sermons can, by calling everyone to a higher standard for living as a community on this beautiful and unique planet we come home.
Read it. Think about it. And then, let’s talk. Just as Pope Francis has invited us to do.