Pope Francis on the Environment: Part Nine

V. RELIGIONS IN DIALOGUE WITH SCIENCE

199. “It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things.”

While the Pontiff believes the conclusions of scientists on global warming, he does not accept science as the sole or main source of knowledge about life. Religion can dialogue meaningfully with science because the former has its own proper sphere of knowledge and insights, beyond what science can offer. But neither should the believer treat science with distrust or denigration. For God created the universe, which science attempts to understand through the God-given gift of reason.

200. “If a mistaken understanding of our own principles has at times led us to justify mistreating nature, to exercise tyranny over creation, to engage in war, injustice and acts of violence, we believers should acknowledge that by so doing we were not faithful to the treasures of wisdom which we have been called to protect and preserve. Cultural limitations in different eras often affected the perception of these ethical and spiritual treasures, yet by constantly returning to their sources, religions will be better equipped to respond to today’s needs.”

Sinful secular society often reproaches Christianity and the Catholic Church for past mistakes made by some believers, who are also fallen sinners. But if we were to reproach secular society for its mistakes, the weight of those errors would far outweigh what some believers have done. Even so, we believers must admit that we are sinners and correct our mistakes as we continue our pilgrim journey.

201. “The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity. Dialogue among the various sciences is likewise needed, since each can tend to become enclosed in its own language, while specialization leads to a certain isolation and the absolutization of its own field of knowledge.”

CHAPTER SIX
ECOLOGICAL EDUCATION AND SPIRITUALITY

202. “A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”

I. TOWARDS A NEW LIFESTYLE

203. “Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals.”

204. “When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume.”

“So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.”

205. “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom”

206. “A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products.”

This change could occur, in my view, after the Warning of Garabandal. Many people will be truly repentant from their grave sins, resulting in changes in the behavior of individuals and society.

207. “The Earth Charter asked us to leave behind a period of self-destruction and make a new start, but we have not as yet developed a universal awareness needed to achieve this.”

208. “Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment.”

II. EDUCATING FOR THE COVENANT BETWEEN HUMANITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

209. “Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them.”

210. “Environmental education should facilitate making the leap towards the transcendent which gives ecological ethics its deepest meaning.”

The integral ecology of Pope Francis is not limited to the environment. It includes concern for all members of society, especially those in greatest need, and it transcends the material to show concern for souls and for the will of God.

211. “Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment…. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.”

212. “We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile.”

213. “Good education plants seeds when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life. Here, though, I would stress the great importance of the family….”

“In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures.”

214. “All Christian communities have an important role to play in ecological education. It is my hope that our seminaries and houses of formation will provide an education in responsible simplicity of life, in grateful contemplation of God’s world, and in concern for the needs of the poor and the protection of the environment.”

215. “By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple.”

“If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour. Our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market.”

III. ECOLOGICAL CONVERSION

216. “The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experience, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity.”

“Admittedly, Christians have not always appropriated and developed the spiritual treasures bestowed by God upon the Church, where the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us.”

217. “It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

I think the main excuse that some Catholics use to reject or ignore concern for the environment is the opposition between conservatism and liberalism. Many Catholics mistakenly think that orthodoxy and faithfulness are inextricably linked to conservatism. They believe that liberalism is tantamount to heresy. Then they see ecology as an issue promoted by liberals, to be opposed by conservatives.

To the contrary, some of Jesus’ teachings were conservative, others moderate, others liberal. Jesus did not teach conservatism. It is a mistake to assume that the correct answer to every question is the conservative answer.

218. “In calling to mind the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, we come to realize that a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change.”

Pope Francis combines love of God and neighbor, with respect for nature. This type of ecology is antithetical to the environmentalism promoted in political and activist circles.

219. “Nevertheless, self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today…. Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds.”

220. “It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings.”

221. “May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied.”

— More on the topic in future posts —

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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