Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Chapter 6: Ecological Education and Spirituality

Pope Francis puts before us “a great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge.” It requires “an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging and of a future to be shared with everyone . . . It will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”

~Towards a new lifestyle

  • Pope Francis challenges us to embark on new paths of authentic freedom, appealing to us to remember the dignity that is ours.
  • Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm leads people to believe they are free as long as they can consume.
  • A consumerist lifestyle, when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.
  • Today the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle.

~Educating for the covenant between humanity & the environment

  • An awareness of the gravity of the cultural and ecological crisis must be translated into new habits.
  • We are faced with an educational challenge for ourselves, our youth, and the entire human community, an education that seeks to establish harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and all living creatures. This educational effort is crucial to human survival.

~Ecological Conversion

  • “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.
  • Such conversion rests in the conviction that God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore.

~Joy and Peace

  • Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little, knowing how to limit some needs and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with Creation and with the Creatorwho lives among us and surrounds us.

~Civic and Political Love

  • Social love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” which permeates all of society.

Implications and Challenges

  • Pope Francis turns to the closing of the Earth Charter: “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. . . .Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”
  • Pope Francis’ Prayer: “All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe. . . .Teach us to discover the worth of each being, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey toward your infinite light.”

Response – Reflect, Discuss, Pray, Act

Reflect: How can I encourage a “Culture of Care” in my community?

Action: Jot down one or two ways your own spirituality can or does motivate you to a more passionate concern for the protection of the world. What are those ways/concerns? Share your thoughts with another sister or friend.

Reflect: Looking back over the entire Encyclical, what were its most striking points for you? What two or three key thoughts or insights do you take away from this study?

Action: What action has this study led you to consider taking? Share this action, if you will, by sending it in to the Earth Committee by way of Sr. Colleen.

Action: Pray for ourselves that I/we will treat all Creation as Sacred!

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Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Chapter 5: Lines of Approach & Action

Pope Francis offers us a framework for dialogue and consensus building based upon a conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.

Major paths of dialogue which can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction follow. Dialogue:

~In the international community

  • Positive experiences are characterized by a unanimity of goals, systems of reporting, standards and controls.
  • Failures are determined by a lack of political will when nations place their interests above the common good, andwhen there is a
  • Lack of suitable mechanismsfor oversight, periodic review and penalties for non-compliance.
  • Costs involved require developed countries to assistpoorer ones by contributing/funding appropriate technologies.
  • Enforceable international agreements are urgentlyneeded.
  • The plight of the poor and the plight of the planet flow from the same consumptive economic culture.

~For new national and local policies

  • Local individuals and groups can make a real difference in shaping environmental decisions because of a greater sense of responsibility for the immediateenvironment and a strong sense of community.
  • Results, even locally, take time, energy and commitment, as well as cultivating political will.
  • In the absence of pressure from the public, political authorities focus on short-term gains which dominate present day economics and politics. A healthy politics is sorely needed.

~With transparency for decision-making

  • Any given project, business proposal or policy must take into account in the beginning stages the environmental impact on planet and people.
  • The local population should have a special place at the table.
  • Decisions must be made based on the comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various alternatives.

~Between politics and the economy

  • Efforts to promote a sustainableuse of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economicbenefits.
  • A matter of redefining the notion of progress: Can a technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life be considered progress?
  • A strategy for real change calls for rethinking processes in their entirety. A healthy politics needs to be able to take up this challenge.

~Of religions with science

  • Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony.

Response – Reflect, Discuss, Pray, Act

  1. Francis speaks of the need for a global consensus for confronting problems. Discuss with others: Why is such a global consensusneeded? And how might such a consensus be achieved?(164)
  2. Identify the actions you can take on your local level to impact political decisions affecting your local community and the health of the environment. (179, 180)
  3. Take 10 minutes at your next house meeting to reflect and share your thoughts on the following sections of Chapter 5:
  • What is your response to articles (189-190?)
  • What role does profit play in a robust economy?
  • How does “profit at any cost” contribute to the degradation of the environment? (199-201)
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Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Chapter 4: Integral Ecology

Pope Francis reminds us that:

  • When we speak of the “environment,” what we reallymean is the relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it.
  • It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions whichconsider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems.
  • Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.
  • When we speak of “sustainable use,” consideration must always be given to each ecosystem’s regenerative ability.
  • “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment” – social ecologyextends to the whole of society. [142]
  • Ecology also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense—that which is inherited from the past and that which is the living, dynamic and participatory present reality. Thisis cultural ecology. [143]
  • Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of life — addressing concerns of extreme poverty, exploitation of people and the environment, overcrowding in cities, lack of open space and lack of access to housing.
  • Human ecology implies another profound reality: therelationship between human life and the moral law; the ethical imperative to be in solidarity with the poorest of our brothers and sisters and the call to renew our efforts to work for the common good.
  • An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision, i.e. intergenerational solidarity and the needs of future generations.

Implications and Challenges

  • Challenges include the need for integrated urban planning that takes into account the quality of life for all inhabitants and that promotes the growth ofcommunity and the opportunity for a coherent and meaningful framework for their lives.
  • The lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world, including Marin County.
  • The systems of transportation are often a source suffering bringing congestion, pollution and consumption of non-renewable resources.
  • An understanding of human ecology calls us to the necessity to create a more dignified environment for the common good.
  • The common good extends to this moment and to future generations.

Response – Reflect, Discuss, Pray, Act

  • Reflect on and discuss with your local community Pope Francis’ pointed questions:Consider you local area: is there anyone I see in my daily surroundings that is vulnerable and desperate. How might my/our actions be able tomake a difference?
    • What is the purpose of our life in this world?
    • Why are we here?
    • What is the goal of our work and all of our efforts?
  • Lack of affordable housing is impacting increasing numbers of people in our midst: our own lay employees, teachers in our schools, the elderly in our midst. What more might we do toeffect change through our advocacy and/or assistance?
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Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Chapter 3: Technology, Creativity & Power

Pope Francis reminds us that:

  • Our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads.” [102]
  • “Technoscience, when well directed, can produce important means of improving the quality of human life.” [103]
  • Creativity and knowledge bring power and the potential for improving life or the risk of domination of the many by a few. [104]
  • “We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.” [105]
  • The fundamental underpinnings of the technocratic paradigm—a technique of possession, mastery and transformation — move us unwittingly from a cooperative and relational paradigm to a paradigm of confrontation, extraction and domination.
  • In the face of such forces, human freedom and alternative forms of creativity that may be more inclusive are greatly diminished.
  • There is an urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. [114] There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. [118]
  • We cannot heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God.

Implications and Challenges

  • “A technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.” [136]
  • In the face of “super development” of a wasteful and consumerist kind, we fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures — the goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.
  • “’Contemporary man has not been trained to use power well,’ because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.” [105]
  • Work is an expression of human dignity and creativity. It is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.

Response – Reflect, Discuss, Pray, Act

  • Pope Francis suggests we “opt for a nonconsumerist model of life, recreation and community.”Discuss: How as a community and as an individual can we do this?
  • Reflect: Do I perceive that my freedom has been compromised by the allure of technology?
  • “Once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired it becomes easy” to dismiss the value of every person’s potential contribution to the good of the whole.Prayerful reflection: How might I grow in affirming the dignity and value of those with whom I live and work?
  • “An authentic humanity, the desire to create and contemplate beauty, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door.” ReflectHow are we encouraging and supporting the response to beauty in ourselves and others?
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Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Chapter 2: Our Present Reality

Pope Francis reminds us that:

  • Science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.” [62]
  • Christians are called to recognize our responsibility within creation; our duty toward nature and the Creator are an essential part of faith. [64]
  • The wisdom of biblical accounts details the intimate relationship between the Creator and Creation. Pope Francis rejects those interpretations that have been used to justify domination and/or exploitation of Creation and Earth’s inhabitants, while pointing to God’s consistent efforts to guide humanity to a renewed relationship with all of Creation.
  • Creation is an expanding reality, expressing the great creative energy of an unfolding universe.
  • The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things. [83]
  • Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, lived in harmony with all Creation.
  • Nature as a whole not only manifests God but is a locus of God’s presence in which everything is interconnected; creatures exist only in dependence on each other. [88]
  • Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society. [91]
  • The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge.

Implications and Challenges

  • The natural environment is a collective good, the inheritance of all humanity and the responsibility of every person.
  • A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.
  • It is inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking. [91]
  • The Christian tradition has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.
  • Our challenge is to internalize Francis’ message and renew our hope that something new can emerge for the healing of our common home through the work of the Spirit.

Response – Reflect, Discuss, Pray, Act

Since all Dominicans are teachers, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to share some aspects of Laudato Si with those we know — friends, family and ministerial partners. You might:

  • Share something you’ve learned from the encyclical, noting what surprised you, disturbed you and raised moral and ethical insights.
  • Consider making the encyclical part of your Christmas giving.
  • Invite one or more persons into conversation about the Pope’s encyclical, the Paris 2015 conference opening on 11-30, or climate change and its current and long-term impacts for us all.
  • Use the enclosed prayer service individually, in your local community or with a group you convene.
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Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Chapter 1: Our Present Reality

Pope Francis reminds us that:

  • We cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture in which we live.
  • We can no longer sweep under the carpet the questions that are troubling us today:
  1. Pollution: Hundreds of millions of tons of toxic radioactive waste flood our life systems each year.
  2. Warming of the climate: Its effect is accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level, threatening the most vulnerable of all living systems, human and otherwise.
  3. Water poverty: It prevails in the poorest nations where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water.
  4. Loss of biodiversity: Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know again.
  5. Breakdown of human society: “Progress” has not led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life.
  6. Global inequality: A true ecological approach always integrates questions of justice with concerns for the environment so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Implications and Challenges

  • Our current “throwaway culture” affects the entire planet and has implications for our own lives.
  • We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide; still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.
  • We can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point due to the rapid pace of change and degradation. The present world system is certainly unsustainable.

Response – Reflect, Discuss, Pray, Act 

“Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps and that we can always do something to solve our problems.”

  • Do I recognize the “throwaway culture” in my own experience? How do I buy in? How do I resist?
  • How do I understand the notion “the climate is a common good?”
  • What specific efforts am I / are we making to respond to the seriousness of the threat to Our Common Home?
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Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Pope Francis’ Introduction

  • I wish to address every person living on this planet . . . to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.
  • There is an urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity.
  • We are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.”
  • “ We are asked “to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing . . .”

St. Francis “shows us how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.”

  • The Book of Creation: “rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
  • “I urgently appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. . . . [Where] all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation ….”
  • I will point to the intimate relationship between
    • The poor and the fragility of the planet,
    • The conviction that everything in the world is connected
    • The critique of the new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology
    • The call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress
    • The value proper to each creature
    • The human meaning of ecology
    • The need for forthright and honest debate
    • The serious responsibility of international and local policy
    • The throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle

Our Reality

This study of “Our Common Home” continues the Chapter Directional Statement of 2003:

“We the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael commit ourselves to study and promote those sustainable values implicit in the recognition of our place in the community of creation.

  • Respect and care for the Community of Life.
  • Ecological integrity
  • Social and economic justice
  • A world-wide culture of tolerance, non-violence and peace

This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility.”

Points to Ponder/Our Challenge

Sisters, are we ready to engage on behalf of “Our Common Home?” For Pope Francis himself is leading the way.

Let us each ask ourselves as we ponder the introduction and subsequent chapters of the encyclical:

  • With what do I resonate?
  • What disturbs me?
  • What additional study and information do I need?
  • Am I willing to commit myself to Francis’ universal call by prayer, deeper study and reflection and personal change?
  • Am I willing to engage in communal conversation on the implications of the encyclical?
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