I don’t read many papal documents either. Nor bishops’ letters, to be honest. I make exceptions for those that are turning points in the church’s self-understanding. These would include Vatican II Constitutions, like those on the church (Lumen Gentium), on divine revelation (Dei verbum), and the church in the modern world (Gaudium et spes). When I read statements like these that express a bold gospel vision for the future, it makes me wish I read more papal documents.
Pope Francis’ graceful encyclical on the environment (Laudato Si, “On Care For Our Common Home”) is one such game-changing text. The pope puts the urgency of his argument bluntly: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.” This is no dry repetition of churchy ideas: God made the world, life is sacred, respect the planet, and love your neighbor as you recycle. In fact, the pope’s been criticized by some for NOT writing that document. Instead, he’s presenting a vital summons to the global conscience anchored in the language of the age—science, economics, and social theory—yet cradled in scripture, prayer, and passionate moral appeal. The pope touches third-rail politics and tramples on toes; but who wants a pope who minces pieties or holds his tongue? As Teresa of Avila said: “The world is in flames! Let’s not waste our prayer bothering God with trifles!”
Impressively, this is not just a Vatican document. The pope quotes his fellow bishops around the world, voices that are seldom heard: from Canada, Japan, Paraguay, Bolivia, Portugal, New Zealand. He’s as comfortable citing the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church as he is the canon of saints, leaping from international conference findings to sacramental realities. Laudato Si sounds the warning to this generation and points toward hope. If you’re not stunned, breathless, and convicted by this message, go back and read it again.
And yes, it has 246 paragraphs, which is a lot to read in one sitting. Read a paragraph a day and be done in eight months. But I bet you can’t stop at one. You’ll be collecting pearls like I did: “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family.” “We are not God.” “The earth is essentially a shared inheritance.” “Purchasing is always a moral act.” Happy collecting.
Genesis 1:31; 2:15; 3:17-19; Psalm 24:1; 104:31; Sirach 38:4; Wisdom 11:24; Luke 12:3; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:16
(On Care for Our Common Home)