"Laudato Si'" focuses on the heart of man and the disorders of our age | William L. Patenaude | CWR
The central thesis is that the fallen nature of the human heart and the resulting brokenness of human relations is the cause of the crises in our lives, families, nations, and now the life-sustaining ecosystems that form our common home
With the long wait over, the release of Laudato Si' will shift conversations from what Pope Francis might say in his encyclical on the environment to more important ones of what he has said. It is likely that many in Rome hope that now that the document has been released, its words will ease much of the anxiety that has saturated these past months.
That said, there are statements in the encyclical that will successively upset, delight, and challenge most everyone, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Gospel and the Church’s social teachings do similarly and have always done so. But because so much of the pre-release commentary of Laudato Si'attempted to spin the narrative along predictable ideological lines—referring to it (positively or negatively) as a “climate change encyclical” or expressing worries that the Holy Father would place a papal seal of approval on specific political or economic ideologies—it will take some time before the Holy Father’s words can be processed, discussed, and appreciated.
What’s in it
Laudato Si' is translated “Praise be to you.” The title comes from St. Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures, which addresses Christ in gratitude for the goodness of nature. The encyclical is divided into a prologue and six chapters. The first chapter examines the problems of our age—environmental, yes, but also the breakdown of social relations. As did Saint John Paul II, with his concept of “human ecology,” and Benedict XVI, most especially Caritas in Veritate, Pope Francis stresses the link between human and environmental crises, which he says “are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.” (6).
The remaining five chapters plot a course through and beyond the symptoms and causes of these problems. “The Gospel of Creation,” offers a brief catechesis on the environment as seen from the “very good” creation accounts of Genesis and then through the incarnational proclamation of the Gospels—which highlights the relationship in Jesus Christ between God and creation.
In the third chapter, “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” Pope Francis examines the role of sin in the modern age. A Catholic response to all this follows in the concluding three chapters on “Integral Ecology, “Lines of Approach and Action,” and “Ecological Education and Spirituality.” This final chapter concludes with a rich array of Catholic theology and spiritually to conclude a tale that, for Christians, should sound familiar.
In other words, Laudato Si' follows the arc of salvation history to understand and offer a way out of the personal, communal, and planetary disorders of our age.
Climate as a common good
It is in the opening chapter that the Holy Father discusses climate change, a topic he pairs with the general issues of pollution, waste, and a “throwaway culture.”