Care for our common home begins with care for one another
During the celebration of the Easter liturgy, we renew our baptismal promises. It is a moment of remembrance of God’s love for us and a recommitment to live as the light of the world in union with the Lord Jesus in the community we form together in the Church. Baptism connects us with God and with one another. As such, the renewal of our baptismal commitment calls for us to recognize those around us as brothers and sisters, while carefully considering how our actions impact the world.
Renewing that wonderful tradition this year with people back in the pews reminded me that this spring marks the sixth anniversary of the release of Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí, a hopeful appeal for “every person living on this planet” to acknowledge the urgency of challenges facing us in our relationship with God, our neighbor, and the many gifts our Creator has provided for our stewardship on this earth, which is our home. In the encyclical, the Holy Father asks us to look for ways in which we can respond to “the urgent challenge to protect our common home” and address the serious damage to our environment. At the same time, the encyclical grounds its teaching in “a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.” What is the mission that Jesus gives us in this ecological challenge? That is where I think a review of the central teaching from Laudato Sí might be helpful as we navigate a safe and cautious approach to returning to a state of normalcy in our daily lives.
The pandemic has displayed the vulnerability of our modern world, reinforcing Pope Francis’ prophetic words on the need for replacing ignorance and isolation with compassion and community. A crisis is a halting and taxing experience, but it can also be an opportunity for a moment of grace to begin anew and build a world together.
In the encyclical, the Holy Father builds on the idea of “integral ecology,” initially articulated by St. John Paul II. What this means is that we, as human persons, are part of nature and the environment itself, and as such, what is needed in our society is an integrated approach to our world and its problems. Pope Francis states that “we must regain the conviction that we need one another,” that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world, and that “being good and decent are worth it.” In essence, to address environmental problems and promote the protection of nature, we must first ensure that the dignity of the human person is being protected by growing “in solidarity, responsibility, and compassionate care.” A positive change on one front cannot help but affect positive change on others.
Integral ecology also means that there is a connection between human life and moral law: “the human person has a nature created by God that must be respected and that cannot be manipulated at will.” This teaching also presumes the social nature of the human person. Thus, a human ecology is inseparable from the notion of a common good, grounded in a respect for each human person and recognizing the basic right of each person to integral human development. Our world struggles with individualism and instant gratification, and both have caused strain on families and interpersonal relationships. But integral ecology, while acknowledging that strain, also encourages a renewal of appreciation for our interconnectedness with one another and the nature in which we exist. This will help show us a way forward to live with and for others.
Six years after its release, I believe that hopeful notion has come to life in the form of the many blessings that interconnectedness has brought us throughout this dark year of the pandemic. From grocery store workers to medical personnel on the front lines, people have continued to serve others even when it was dangerous to do so. Through their goodness and their commitment to maintaining a safe environment for the compromised and fragile, these are the people who show us hope in darkness. They have displayed how our lives are interwoven and how recognizing that reality can lead to the preservation of life and dignity.
It has been a difficult year, but our visible concern for our common home and the common good is a product of faith, care for each other, and love of the earth: characteristics of the human spirit ingrained in all of us which bring people of goodwill into communion with each other and Jesus.
As Pope Francis presciently said in Laudato Sí, let us be encouraged that “in the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present… he does not abandon us. He has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward” (245). Care for Mother Earth begins with care for brothers and sisters and a collective responsibility in which each of us has a role to play. Six years later and in the future, may we answer Pope Francis’ continuing call from this encyclical by always growing in our shared responsibility towards the common home that God has entrusted to us as we look for new ways to shine as the light of the world.
A blessed Easter Season!
Bishop Robert P. Deeley, JCD
12th Bishop of Portland