June 21, 2015
Laudato Si – Praise Be to You!
“When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you set in place—what is man that you should be mindful of him and the son of man that you should care for him?” Ps. 8
“Let the earth bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever. Mountains and hills, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.” (Dan. 3: 74-76)
As you are aware Pope Francis has issued a bold new Encyclical letter on the Environment. The care he expresses as our chief teacher for the wellbeing of this earth is not something new to Christians. Since the time of our Hebrew forbearers the People of God have praised God whom they have seen at work in the midst of creation. They recognized that creation itself gives praise to God by simply being God’s handiwork.
When our Holy Father, draws from his namesake, St. Francis, to title his Encyclical he is placing this work within the constant Judeo-Christian tradition of seeing ourselves as stewards, cooperators with God in his marvelous work of creation.
There are those on both sides of the political spectrum who would like to see the Church retreat from concern about the lives of human beings and the wellbeing of our planet. On the one hand we have the new definition of what constitutes a Constitutionally protected Church activity such as that found in the Federal HHS Mandate in which agencies of the Church such as hospitals, schools and other service organizations would no longer have the right to act according to our consciences as we follow Church teaching in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). On the other hand we have statements like that made recently by a Republican presidential candidate saying the Church should restrict its teachings to things that make us better as people. I would ask them how we can be better as people if we are not caring about things that impact our fellow human beings and our planet?
People say that people in the Church are not scientists. Some are! Even if we are not we need to be attentive to what scientists say and consider how it impacts our lives and the lives of others. Allow me to give you an analogy: I am not an auto mechanic, but if I notice that my engine is making noise I should know enough to take it to a trusted mechanic and then listen to the mechanic’s advice about how to correct the problem.
We all have heard of and experienced changes in climate. The vast majority of scientists agree that there are some alarming trends. Most believe human beings have something to do with them. Even if we do not, doesn’t it make sense to pay greater attention and to prepare?
In this country we have learned that human activity can indeed impact our environment on a local scale. We have had to deal with polluted rivers and lakes and air. Is it unreasonable to think our activities can impact the planet on a larger scale? And what if the things that we learned to prohibit here are now being practiced by U.S. Companies and others in other places? In our Sister Diocese in Honduras in the village of Transito I visited with residents who were suddenly under threat when a North American Mining Company suddenly came in and began mining operations under their town. Their home foundations were damaged and their water supply destroyed.
The Pope had much to say as well in his letter about human dignity. Here is an example: “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected,” Pope Francis writes. “Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others.” His environmentalism is not at the expense of human dignity but rather a way to ensure that our place in creation is rightly understood.
The Diocese of El Paso has already been involved in efforts to be better stewards in our beautiful corner of God’s creation. Here are some steps that we have begun:
- LED lighting has been installed in at least two parishes: St. Raphael and St. Theresa of Jesus in Presidio.
- One parish has installed solar panels (Bl. Sacrament) another is considering (Christ the Savior).
- Solar outdoor lighting is being installed gradually at the Pastoral Center.
- We are gradually installing water-saving desert landscaping at the Pastoral Center. This project has been underway for a few years.
- We are upgrading Pastoral Center thermostats to allow temperatures to be adjusted according to times of use.
- Some parishes have recycling bins. (Holy Trinity and Christ the Savior)
- A committee has been formed to evaluate ways that Catholic Properties, diocesan entities, parish properties and schools, can become more green.
As Catholic Christians we love all human beings and see them as brothers and sisters. We love this earth and see in it signs of God’s hand. Its beauty leads us to awe and wonder when we see a technicolor sunset or a majestic mountain or glowing stars at night. We believe that God has called us not to be pillagers of the earth but its stewards, using its resources gently and with a view to the needs of generations to come.
Along with our Holy Father we invite all people of good will to reflect upon these realities and to come together to care for the earth and its people.
“Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us…
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.”
(Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis of Assisi)