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God does not send in vengeful fury a plague,
but holds the hands of the dying and asks:
What can you learn?
God does not smash the dams, sending
rivers raging over home and hearth,
but heals, shields, restores and asks (oh so gently):
What did you learn?
And when God shows us the beauty of silence,
of water and air free of debris, of nature healing,
and we roar instead for haircuts and sweaty congregation,
ocean-front suntans and the snarl of traffic,
God only sighs and asks, in endless, enduring refrain:
Will you learn?
Will you learn?
Will you learn?

You gotta say this about Pope Francis: He gets people talking. His latest encyclical, Laudato si’ (“Praise Be to You”) has garnered both raves and rants for its take on the environment and the necessity of a human response to its care. Of course it’s impossible to make everyone happy, even if you are the Pope. Two leading disparagements of the encyclical can be summed up thusly: climate change denial and fear of socialism.

Whatever you feel about climate change, one cannot deny that:

  1. We only have one world.
  2. We must do everything in our power to conserve and care for it.
    These are non-negotiable. It is time to move past arguments over science and accept responsibility for human impact on the earth and her resources. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong?

There used to be a kids’ show wherein one of the characters had a show called “Yay Me!” “Yay Me” could be the human rallying cry — we sure do like to feel good about ourselves. Laudato si’ calls for introspection and recognition of sin, for that is what Pope Francis calls our mistreatment of the Earth — sin. And that is the challenge of the encyclical: No one wants to be called a sinner. It is far easier to argue over science or call Francis’ championing of the poor and criticism of first-world economics that most ill-regarded of words, socialism. Guess what? These arguments do not absolve anyone.

We do have a responsibility to good stewardship of the Earth. We do need to care for the poor and dismantle structures that benefit the few while marginalizing the many. Pope Francis isn’t the first person to say so, either. Jesus said it. St. Francis of Assisi said it. Lots of people of God have said these things over centuries of time. Inconvenient as these truths are, whatever your political leanings, they are, indeed, truths.

Human beings are not masters of the Earth. Yes, God gave the Earth to us as a gift. But God also gave us God’s son to show us what being a leader means. It’s not about exploitation; it’s about washing feet. Our mission and responsibility is to care for the Earth and her resources from a place of humility and service, not power and arrogance. Only by making ourselves servants, tenders of God’s garden, can we hope to preserve our planet for future generations.

Laudato si’ is all about humility and service. It is a timely and important reminder of God’s desires for us and for the world God made. Instead of arguing over its finer points, we ought to listen to it and heed it.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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