Join us at The Paulist Center in downtown Boston on Thursday October 1 (tomorrow) at 7:00pm for a lecture titled “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor: Introducing Laudato Si“ with a discussion to follow. Haven’t read the encyclical yet? Not a problem, come learn about it.
Below is the full text of Cardinal Turkson’s address on the encyclical Laudato Si delivered at Boston College earlier this week. The text was provided to Vatican Radio and a video of the lecture is also available online.
Thank you for your warm welcome and for the privilege of speaking on the opening day of this important interdisciplinary conference entitled “Our Common Home: An Ethical Summons to Tackle Climate Change”. Boston College has set itself the task of exploring the implications of Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on the environment and climate change. I am delighted to talk with you about how his encyclical, Laudato si’, can shape the road to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference this December (COP21). It seems especially fitting to talk about the encyclical of the first Jesuit pope at a leading Jesuit university.
Your undertaking is courageous because, given the full embrace of Pope Francis’s vision, you need to reach far and wide but you also need to touch yourselves. This week’s important inquiry will prosper if the reflections and exchanges are grounded in shared civic values, based on competent scholarship and conducted in a transparent manner—all this in a generous Christian spirit of solidarity.
I will begin with a reflection on “common home.” Next I will set the views of Pope Francis on climate change and the environment within our Catholic tradition and explore how the encyclical is being received and how it can ‘make a difference’ in current environmental discussions. In Part 3, I will turn to practical action by Catholics and their institutions, including in this country. Simply put, how can America respond to the Pope’s call to action? I very much look forward to our exchange and pray for God’s blessing on the coming days dedicated to the ethical summons to care for our common home.
PART 1: The GLOBAL COMMONS of “Our Common Home”
You are probably aware of the broad vision of Laudato si’. Here are some of the main points:
- humanity is not separate from the environment in which we live; rather humanity and the natural environment are one;
- the accelerating change in climate is undeniable, catastrophic, and worsened by human activities, but it is also amenable to human intervention;
- the grave errors that underlie our disastrous indifference to the environment include a throwaway culture of consumerism, and a naïve confidence that technological advances and undirected commercial markets will inevitably and automatically solve our environmental problems;
- the two-fold crisis can be overcome, not by more of the same, but through changes arising from generous dialogue and fundamental ethical and indeed spiritual decision-making at every level.
The very sub-title of the encyclical, “On Care for our Common Home”, conveys an important conviction. Individual homes are not isolated, each on its own planet. They are located within a single, worldwide common home. The encyclical is about the implications of living together in a common home.
Boston is an ideal location in which to explore this notion. A most striking feature of the city is its large park, the Boston Common. During the 1630s, its 50 acres were used by many families as a cow pasture. However, this “common good” lasted for only a few years. Affluent families bought additional cows, and this led to overgrazing. Fortunately, the common resource of this pasture land was rescued by a shared agreement limiting the number of cows to 70.
There are two lessons for our topic.
First, there is the over-grazing. The environmental degradation was not due to necessity but to excess. Overgrazing by the extra livestock of affluent families happened because of materialism, greed, consumerism, perhaps vanity. It was not due to concern for the poor. It did not embody ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ In the chapter called “Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”, Laudato si’ points to such vices as sources of the depletion of the natural environment. When many act on private self-interest, it endangers the “common” home. The roots of the problem are the bondage of individualism and putting short-term gain above longer-term sustainability.
The second lesson is about decisions. A limit on use of the pasture was set. The Bostonians must have had a way of deciding and of making the decisions stick. Who did the limiting? How was the decision formulated, endorsed, implemented, enforced? Pope Francis calls most forcefully for responsibility, decisiveness and implementation. These are exactly what our common home needs, with the General Assembly deciding upon the Sustainable Development Goals and with the world’s nations converging on COP21 in Paris at the end of November.
Boston Common and over-grazing is a historical example of what has come to be known as the tragedy of the commons. This expression can apply to all situations where the self-interested actions of one or more agents deplete a common resource. For instance, in Laudato si’ the Pope declares the climate and the atmosphere to be common goods “belonging to all and meant for all” (§23). The oceans and other natural resources should likewise be considered as a global commons and protected by an appropriate system of governance (§174). “The principle of the universal destination of the goods of creation is also applied to the global carbon sinks of the atmosphere, oceans and forests. In order to protect the poorest and to avoid dangerous climate change, these sinks must be prevented from overuse.” Let me ask the same questions again: who is going to decide, fairly and squarely, and are the decisions really going to be carried out?
PART 2: THE INFLUENCE OF POPE FRANCIS AND THE CHURCH
Pope Francis’ concern for climate change as a moral issue and his call for climate change policies are firmly rooted in traditional Catholic teaching. So let us briefly note the development of Catholic ecological ethics. Continue reading
In this third episode of “Understanding Laudato Si,” we explore the first half of Chapter One of Pope Francis’s encyclical. The three subheadings of Chapter One examined here include the themes of: (A) Pollution and Climate Change; (B) The Issue of Water; and (C) Loss of Biodiversity. Stay tuned for next week’s episode in which I will discuss the second half of Chapter One.
If you haven’t checked out the earlier episodes, be sure to visit the YouTube Channel for them and more.
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A selection from Thomas Merton’s 1958 book Thoughts in Solitude, which has become one of Thomas Merton’s best-known prayers. In honor of Pope Francis’s mention and praise of Merton in his address to the joint session of Congress during his 2015 visit to the United States, it is read here by Daniel P. Horan, OFM with images from Merton’s life. Learn more about Thomas Merton by visiting Merton.org and there join the International Thomas Merton Society (ITMS).
If you like this prayer, be sure to check out the book itself (it’s definitely worth it): Thoughts in Solitude
[Here’s the link to the video: Thomas Merton’s Prayer]
Scandal. That’s what the translation should actually say in today’s Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48). Why the lectionary renders the Greek Skandalon as “sin” in this translation is unclear, but what is clear is that in the original Greek, Jesus is making it plain to his followers that those who — by their actions or words — become an obstacle or “stumbling block” to others are the real problem that needs correction.
It may seem like a minor concern, this business about translation, but the NAB translation in our lectionary proceeds to use “sin” in the bodily examples Jesus names: hand, foot, eye. But, again, Jesus doesn’t actually seem to be so concerned about the individual act of sin as we might imagine it today, nor is he very likely to have been concerned about one’s actual physical body. The verb used here in the Greek is Skandalizein, which really means “to cause one to stumble.” And scholars, such as John Donahue and the late Daniel Harrington have explained that these bodily references are metaphorical, referring as St. Paul does so often in his letters to the corporate body — in this case: The Body of Christ.
With this in mind, we can look at today’s Gospel in a whole other light. It’s not about individual acts of indiscretion or sinfulness (not that those aren’t important), as much as it’s about how we relate to one another and to strangers as members of the Body of Christ.
In today’s First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) we have an interesting story about the bestowal of the Spirit upon those selected to continue Moses’s prophetic ministry to the people of Israel. As it happens, two men who were not at the event where the Lord was said to bestow the Spirit upon these ministers nevertheless began prophesying. Those who were counted among the ministers became very upset and insisted that Moses stop them, for these guys were not “allowed” to be speaking on behalf of God and prophesying.
Moses replied: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”
The self-righteous seem convinced that they should be arbiters of who is in and who is out of God’s favor. These two prophets might not have been part of the official ceremony of commissioning, but their deeds and words reflected true reception of God’s Spirit. So often religious people are concerned about who is in and who is out of God’s favor, who should be admitted to ministry, who should be welcome at the Table of the Lord — yet, it is clear in Moses’s response that this is not what is important to God. God wants all people to be prophetic followers of the law and God’s will.
A similar scene plays out in today’s Gospel.
Like Moses, Jesus is nonplussed with the idea that people other than his self-identified followers are out and about doing good works and preaching the Good News in his name. The disciples, self-appointed first-century “brand managers” of Jesus, find it annoying and intolerable that those who are not part of their “in crowd” can still be able to perform good works in the name of Christ.
One of the easily overlooked clues that their behavior isn’t really concerned with Jesus as much as it is with their own status as the arbiters of who is in and who is out comes when John reports the news to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Catch that? He says this other miracle worker should be prevented from acting not because he doesn’t follow Jesus, but “because he does not follow us,” that is the disciples!
This guy, like the two of the First Reading, is not part of the “in crowd,” does not have the official recognition of those who like to judge the worthy and unworthy, does not play the game according to the disciples’ rules.
And yet, here he is nevertheless performing good works and proclaiming the Good News. Because, in truth, he is certainly “for Christ” (“There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us”).
Jesus uses the same “us” language in response to John to hammer-home the point of communion (Koinonia), the recognition that it is the Spirit of God that unites “us” and not the arbitrary decisions of the self-selected governors of discipleship. As James has been pointing out in the Second Readings these last weeks, discipleship isn’t determined by what one simply says in terms of their faith, but how it is lived; it is seen in the resulting good fruits.
Returning to the key notion of “scandal” in today’s readings, those who complain to Moses and Jesus might have been upset by the potential “scandal” of someone outside of their “in crowd” doing what they felt they had the right to authorize or forbid. But God makes clear through Moses and in Christ that the real scandal is when the disciples and other “good, religious people” exclude those who seek by their deeds and words to do the will of God.
Within the Body of Christ, these are the “members,” the “limbs” that need to be removed — perhaps only for a time — in order that they do not become a stumbling block for the faith of these “little ones” as Jesus puts it.
In our own time, these readings evoke the many people who fall into the category of the “nones” or “disaffected Catholics” or “former Christians,” who may no longer affiliate with a religious institution, but nevertheless seek to do good work and promote the common good in society. Just because a person is not an official member of this or that church does not mean that he or she isn’t doing God’s Will.
This weekend’s readings really call today’s self-proclaimed followers of Christ to examine their consciences. For the “hand,” “foot,” or “eye” that may need to be removed may be them if their attitude, words, and actions cause others to stumble in their faith and prevent the in-breaking of the inclusive Reign of God.
The following is the Vatican’s translation of Pope Francis’s homily from this afternoon’s liturgy at Madison Square Garden. Key points: “God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities” and Go into the world, proclaiming the Good News of Christ, meeting people where they are (i.e., not where we might want them to be).
We are in Madison Square Garden, a place synonymous with this city. This is the site of important athletic, artistic and musical events attracting people not only from this city, but from the whole world. In this place, which represents both the variety and the common interests of so many different people, we have listened to the words: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).
The people who walked – caught up in their activities and routines, amid their successes and failures, their worries and expectations – have seen a great light. The people who walked – with all their joys and hopes, their disappointments and regrets – have seen a great light.
In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light. A light for the nations, as the elderly Simeon joyfully expressed it. A light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. One special quality of God’s people is their ability to see, to contemplate, even in “moments of darkness”, the light which Christ brings. God’s faithful people can see, discern and contemplate his living presence in the midst of life, in the midst of the city. Together with the prophet Isaiah, we can say: The people who walk, breathe and live in the midst of smog, have seen a great light, have experienced a breath of fresh air.
Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.
But big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts. Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections”, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.
What is it like, this light travelling through our streets? How do we encounter God, who lives with us amid the smog of our cities? How do we encounter Jesus, alive and at work in the daily life of our multicultural cities?
The prophet Isaiah can guide us in this process of “learning to see”. He presents Jesus to us as “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”. In this way, he introduces us to the life of the Son, so that his life can be our life. Wonderful Counselor. The Gospels tell us how many people came up to Jesus to ask: “Master, what must we do?” The first thing that Jesus does in response is to propose, to encourage, to motivate. He keeps telling his disciples to go, to go out. He urges them to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be. Go out, again and again, go out without fear, without hesitation. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people.
The Mighty God. In Jesus, God himself became Emmanuel, God-with-us, the God who walks alongside us, who gets involved in our lives, in our homes, in the midst of our “pots and pans”, as Saint Teresa of Jesus liked to say.
The Everlasting Father. No one or anything can separate us from his Love. Go out and proclaim, go out and show that God is in your midst as a merciful Father who himself goes out, morning and evening, to see if his son has returned home and, as soon as he sees him coming, runs out to embrace him. An embrace which wants to take up, purify and elevate the dignity of his children. A Father who, in his embrace, is “glad tidings to the poor, healing to the afflicted, liberty to captives, comfort to those who mourn” (Is 61:1-2). Prince of Peace. Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side. He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.
God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities, and she wants to be like yeast in the dough. She wants to relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side, as she proclaims the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. And we ourselves are witnesses of that light.