In 1979 St Francis was declared the patron saint of ecology reflecting his deep sense of the connectedness of all aspects of creation and in which all creation lives to praise God. Francis undertook very radical changes in his lifestyle in order that he could be true to his understanding of God, and yet – or because of this – he was also full of joy.
Today is the feast of St Francis, patron saint of ecology. Like the writers of the Old Testament and Jesus, Francis understood the innate connectedness that humanity shares with the rest of creation. It is a connectedness created by God. When we live in harmony we worship God; when we live in disharmony we grieve God.
“Laudate Si – care of our common home” is an encyclical written by Pope Francis in 2015 in response to the various environmental crises facing the world. This was the same year that produced the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The former set goals to keep the rise in global temperature (compared with pre industrial levels) to within at least 2C and ideally less than 1.5C, as being the only way to substantially reduce the effects of climate change. This reduction was to be achieved by cutting green house gas emissions with a target of net zero emissions by 2050. (The Agreement included 5 yearly interim targets for the period to 2030). The latter SDGs set 17 interlinked goals which are intended to produce a good and sustainable future for everyone. With a target date of 2030, these goals include an end to poverty, an end to hunger, gender equality, quality education for all, peace and justice and the institutions to maintain them etc.
Into this focus on reducing the impact of climate change and of creating a sustainable way of living that would benefit the whole world, Pope Francis’s encyclical brings a welcome theological dimension for protecting the earth and its human society. It also brings in the equally theological understanding that humans have a responsibility to act to ensure these changes happen.
Five plus years later, that need for action is still there. This autumn the COP26 climate conference – the successor to the conference that produced the 2015 Paris Agreement – will be taking place in Glasgow. It will need to lay out clear targets and specific plans for their implementation, to ensure the whole world does indeed become net zero carbon by 2050 and that global temperature increases are kept within the 1.5C safety range. Can we once again take the message from Laudate Si and use it to bring about the changes needed?
RECLAIM nature so that everyone can breathe clean air and be protected from the threat of climate disasters.
RECLAIM the world’s land and resources so they are more fairly distributed and all our brothers and sisters around the world can live in dignity.
RECLAIM power so that everyone can be involved in decision making and have control over their own lives.
What’s in a name?
Laudate Si, meaning praise be, is the repeated refrain from the Canticle of the Creatures written by St Francis circa 1225 (see page 5 for a copy). Its verses call on the listener (and the cantor) to praise creation, identifying each part of creation as one of humanity’s many siblings, from Bother Sun and Sister Moon to Sister Death. This valuing of creation as co-equals with humanity is picked up repeatedly in St Francis’s approach to life. It is told of in the stories of Francis preaching to the birds and acting as an arbitrator between a man-eating wolf and the villagers of Gubio. It is an interconnectedness that is now recognised by both scientists and environmentalists – and one hopes by economists.
The second part of the encyclical’s title talks of ‘our common home’. The earth, this world in which we live, is our home, but not just our home but that of all manner and number of other living beings, plant and animal. Just as we are all brothers and sisters, so we are all part of one household. Study of our common home gives us the word ecology – the Greek oikos means house or habitation/ habitat and logia means study.
Praise Be! Let all creation praise God in its differing ways and let humanity – both in words and art forms – praise God by praising every part of creation! The psalms include many lines praising God, praises that come from humans as well as praises that come from creation itself – psalm 19 is a good example. In what ways do you most naturally or readily praise God through praising creation?
Do we devote enough time and energy to celebrating the wonder and beauty of creation? Do we share this joy often enough with other people? (This is one way in which we can share the good news). Would a more widespread enjoyment and admiration of the beauty of creation, induce a more widespread and concerted concern for the well being of our environment? Is this one reason why writings such as Laudate Si are so important?
As well as psalms of praise, there are psalms of lament – psalms that cry out to God with words of suffering, pain, anguish and despair (for example psalm 31:9-13). Usually we read such psalms as being the lament of a human being, but should we be ready to hear them also as a lament of an animal or bird, a river or even a landscape? How might that change the focus or feel of our private or corporate worship?
Given that we are brethren or siblings together, living in a common home, why is it that we as humans have a) managed to so disrupt or distort the ecosystem such that life as we know it is threaten, and b) feel that we have a responsibility to God to do all we can to correct these things?
The psalms of lament invariably lead to cries of repentance, of contrition, of seeking God’s mercy and of turning one’s life around. How often do we take time to examine our lives from an ecological viewpoint? How often do we reflect on the degree of suffering our lives may be causing our creaturely brothers and sisters? Might contrition prompt us to both make a fresh start and to make good the damage we have caused?
The creation story in Genesis chapters 2 and 3, describes how the harmonious relationships between humans and God, and between humans and other living beings became broken. St Francis’s experience and practice of being at one with all living things has been seen as a way of caring for, and increasing awareness of, our mutual relationships with nature. Can this practice also improve our relationship with God?
What does it mean to share a common home? I am sure at some point you have had experience of having to share your home with someone else. Maybe a new sibling or your own new born child, maybe a returning adult child or an elderly parent, maybe a cat or dog, maybe a lodger or a carer. Current and incoming inhabitants have to make adjustments, there will be times when either party must bear or forebear, sometimes additional leeway is called for whilst at others a reassessment of house rules may be needed. At the end of the day an accommodation has to be found that is acceptable to all parties. How good are we at sharing our global home, our national home, our local ‘home’ with others? Is it our inability to share that causes most grief?
The covid pandemic has shown us how interconnected our world is, whether through the transfer of viruses between species or the transfer of mutations between countries. It has changed our view of what is important about where and how we live. Has it also shifted our understanding of the role leaders and governments play? Has it challenged our reliance on them? Has it instead increased our reliance on God and neighbour?
Open our minds and touch our hearts
so that we may attend to your gift of creation …
Now more than ever may we feel
that we are all connected and interdependent;
enable us to listen and respond
to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.
May the present sufferings be the birth pangs
of a more familial and sustainable world.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.
Prayer for the Sixth Anniversary of Laudato Si’: Columban Missionaries (Britain)
In Laudate Si, Pope Francis says that our friendship with God is often linked to particular places which take on a intensely personal meaning. This might include mountains or vistas, places where we played as children, churches, sea coasts. Revisiting them may enable us to recover something of our true selves (Laudate Si section 84). Later Pope Francis commends paying close attention to the natural world – it being a continuing revelation of the divine – so that we might more clearly see ourselves as part of the sacredness of the living whole (Laudate Si section 85).
Between now and our next meeting, practice with praising creation, with exploring places of personal significance and/ or with contemplating the natural world, and note how it affects your relationship with God and with your creaturely siblings.
This poster is the work of Elizabeth Perry/CCOW (Christian Concern for One World)