Probing Pope Francis’ Encyclical LAUDATO SI’ on Care for our Common Home – an Open Forum held June 30, 2015 at St. Gabriel’s Church
Dr. Dennis O’Hara and Fr. Steve Dunn, C.P. facilitated an Open Forum on Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si’ on June 30, 2015 at our parish. Close to three hundred people attended.
Many from different parishes and religious congregations all across Toronto joined us to celebrate the encyclical, to draw and to share insights from it. It was a Spirit-filled event.
We thank Paul Royes, one of our parishioners, for making the video available.
Some highlights from the encyclical:
“Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” [paras. 13, 14]
“ … we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” [para. 49]
“ … our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.” [para. 164]
“We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.” [para. 161]
At different times when I’ve preached on this gospel I was convinced that when Jesus preached or worked a miracle he always wanted to help those who listened to his teachings or witnessed his miracle to move beyond where they were in their lives and grow to a deeper appreciation of their relationship with God and a greater generosity toward their neighbour.
Preparing this sermon I read an article that told me I was totally wrong with such an interpretation. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes had nothing to do with how the physical needs, the hunger of this particular group of people were met on a certain afternoon in Galilee. The deep meaning of the event has everything to do with how Jesus, the Christ, crucified and risen is present to the church that is us. The focus is on who Jesus is and what he does for those who follow him. especially what he does for us at this very Eucharist.
We can just imagine how the news of what Jesus did spread through the country side. Those present when this happened were so impressed they wanted to come and take him by force and make him their king. Jesus would have none of it. It would be a blood thirsty crowd and mocking Roman soldiers who would declare him king not this admiring crowd of people.
To feed thousands with five barley loaves and two fish and have plenty left over was an astounding feat but as St. Augustine points out, God’s governing of the entire universe is a greater miracle than feeding five thousand men and women, yet we don’t marvel at that. People marvel, we marvel at the feeding of the five thousand not because this miracle is greater, but because it is out of the ordinary.’
When you stop to think of it, this is true.
Every day of life we are surrounded by miracles, the wonders of creation. Augustine goes on to say,’ God is not the kind of being that can be seen with the eyes, and small account is taken of the miracles by which he rules the entire universe and governs all creation because they recur so regularly. Scarcely anyone bothers to consider God’s marvelous, his amazing artistry in every tiny seed or in the countless galaxies that stretch beyond our sight. Isn’t this true, we take these marvel for granted.
People who hold cheap what they see every day are dumbfounded at the sight of extraordinary works even though they are no more wonderful than the others.
We take for granted the wonders of nature, the abundant life that is in the seas. We take for granted that earth is blanketed with so great a variety of trees and vegetation of every kind. We take for granted the awesome and majestic mountain ranges that are the spines of earth. We take for granted the abundant crops that feed us. We take for granted the innumerable variations of flora and fauna that blanket earth. We take for granted the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. We hold cheap what we see every day, the miracle, the beauty, the wonder and the abundance of God’s good creation and we are stunned by the story of the feeding of the five thousand and other miracles done by Jesus.
In his letter to all people of good will Pope Francis calls all people to consider how we are treating the miracles that surround us. He says, ‘If we approach nature and the environment without this sense of awe and wonder, in other words if we are more impressed with the feeding of the multitude than we are with the miracle of creation, if we no longer speak the language of kinship and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on our immediate needs. That’s where we are right now. We see the gifts of nature as ours, to be used as if they were limitless.
What we need to do is to develop a sense of kinship with the wonders of creation, the bounty of creation, the miracles of nature that surround us then we will come to take better care of the gifts of nature. But on the other hand, if we feel intimately united with all that exists and all the miracles of nature that surround us, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. We will have greater respect for Mother Earth and her miracles.
On Christ’s feeding the multitude we might listen to these words of Pope Francis;
Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times, we are no longer able to give a just value, which goes well beyond mere economic parameters. We should all remember, however, that the food we throw away is as if stolen from the table of the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy.
Maybe we can take another look at the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and another look at the awesome miracle we see every day from sunrise to sunset.
I remember the year after my ordination we had another year of study. It focused on how to write a sermon. My classmates and I went out every weekend to help in neighbouring parishes but before we went our sermons had to be approved by our mentor priest. On Sunday afternoon when we all came home we would talk about how things went that morning or our experiences of hearing confessions on Saturday afternoons. This was our first experience of any kind of pastoral experience and it was an exciting for all of us.
These thoughts came to me reading the beginnings of today’s gospel when we hear of the excited apostles telling Jesus about all they done and taught. These were busy people; people were coming and going and wanting attention. Jesus and his friends had no leisure even to eat. Jesus suggested they all get away from their busyness and spent some time recharging their batteries.
That was not about to happen. A great crowd got there ahead of them and Jesus told the Apostles ‘we’ll have to save this for another time, right now we have to look after these good people.’ Jesus saw these men and women as ‘sheep without a shepherd’. He knew that their spiritual needs were not being looked after by most of their priests and spiritual leaders. The needs of these good people were not answered by priests and rabbis who didn’t have the time to listen to their stories and get to know them, priests who were more interested in proper rituals than the needs of these great unwashed.
Jesus knew these good people needed to hear again that God loved them, they were God’s people. These good people needed to hear they were of more value to God than any lilies of the field or birds of the air. He wanted to be for them a good shepherd, a good shepherd who knew each one by name. He would be the kind of shepherd who would search for them when they wandered away and bring them home. Jesus wanted to be so unlike the shepherds we heard about in our first reading, shepherds who ignored or abused their sheep, and shepherds who, by their abuse of power, turned their sheep away. By the way he took the time to be with these good people, to listen to their problems, to cure their pains, to tell them time and time again that they were precious to God Jesus wanted to set an example to those who would come after them as shepherds. He would be the shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep.
Jesus is our good and faithful shepherd. Do we listen to his voice as he calls us to be shepherds to one another? Do we listen to his voice as it comes to us from men and women different from ourselves, different in faith, different in social backgrounds, different is cultural backgrounds, different in lifestyles? Do we hear Jesus’ voice as these good people ask for acceptance and respect? Are we willing, as Jesus was always willing, to accept people as they are, where they are in their life journey and walk with them on their journey? Are we willing as spouses to shepherd our spouses into a deeper mutual relationship, growing in love day by day. Do we shepherd our children to grow up free of bigotry and prejudice toward people who will into their lives. Are we willing to be shepherded by Jesus as he wishes to bring us to that closeness with him that we can say of ourselves, ’I live now, not I, but Christ lives and loves and serves through me.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we pray for ourselves and one another that we be available to all those who come in need to us as Christ our shepherd is always available to us.
There was a little store front church in a rundown area of Baltimore. There was a brightly colored sign over the front door of this church that read, ’Welcome to the house of the Lord.’ Inside there was another sign to be read by people as they leave the church. It read, ‘Welcome to the vineyard of the Lord.’
You know for years now our first petition in the prayer of the faithful is, ‘may we live this Mass outside these walls in the work we do, the service we give and in the prayers we pray.’ The final words after the final blessing at the end of Mass are, ’let us go in peace to love and to serve the Lord.’
In the gospel of Matthew we hear of Jesus sending the apostles out two by two to cure the sick, cast out demons and announce the good news that the kingdom of God is near. They would do the very things Jesus was sent to do.
Jesus sent them two by two so they could support one another when they met hostility and encourage one another in their efforts.
He commanded them to take nothing with them, neither bag, nor money, not bread, so as to teach them to despise riches, and to make people ashamed when they saw them preaching poverty by their own lack of possessions.
He gives them his authority to preach repentance, to cast out demons, to cure the sick. He also gives them each other, for they are not sent out alone but in partnership “two by two.” The gift of his authority and the gift of one another is essentially the gift of Jesus himself. So gifted, disciples cannot fail.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord – welcome to the vineyard of the Lord. One of the powers the apostles were given was the power to cast out demons. In the time of Jesus belief in spiritual beings was very strong. Greeks called hostile spirits “demons,” while Jewish people called them “unclean spirits.” We have demons in our days, demons that are our ways of thinking and living that make us see other people as less than ourselves, demons such and bigotry and prejudice.
In his letter to us and to the whole world, ‘ Laudatio se’ on the care and nurturing of creation, Pope Francis calls each one of us as we leave this house of the Lord and go into the vineyard of the Lord, to cast out our demon of indifference. It’s the demon that dulls to the devastation and diminishment of our home Earth. The demon that causes us to be unconcerned about the health and wholeness of Earth, unconcerned about the Earth we will leave to our children and our children’s children. A demon that makes us unsympathetic to the needs of men, women and children in our own city whose lives are diminished by unfair wages, unemployment and under-employment, lack of adequate housing, lack of proper daycare, lack of care for those suffering from mental and emotional sickness, unconcerned about the racism that exists among us.
In a recent talk given in Equator Pope Francis teaches,’we can no longer turn our backs on our reality, of our brothers and sisters, of mother earth. It is no longer licit for us to ignore what is happening to our surroundings as if certain situations did not exist or have nothing to do with us. Again and again comes the strength of that question of God to Cain: ‘Where is your brother?’” he said. “I ask if our response continues to be: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
Jesus teaches us that we are our brothers and sisters keeper. We are called to cast our demon on indifference and uncaring and be there one another. We can cast out this demon if we remember and live the words of Jesus; as often as you did these things to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did them to me.
By God’s grace may we cast out our demon of indifference and hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own kin. These words are proven by the reception Jesus received when he visited his home town of Nazareth after living in Capernaum. He was invited to read from the scriptures and say a few words. According to Luke Jesus read from the scroll of Isiah about the spirit of the Lord being given to him to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to captives and to set the downtrodden free. Jesus told his neighbours who knew since he was a child, ‘today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ Their reaction was swift and furious. How dare Jesus speak like this, who does he think he is, his father was a carpenter, there’s his mother and his family. Who does he think he is claiming God’s Spirit was given to him to tell us how to live? They ran him out of town.
When we hear the word prophet we usually think of a person who tells of future events but that is not the only role of the prophet. A prophet is one who calls people to face the failures and the injustices of the times in which they live and change their ways.
Last Tuesday evening we had close to 300 people here reflecting on the importance of Pope Francis’ letter to the church and all people who care about the degradation being done to our home, planet earth. The letter is titled ‘Laudato Si’ Praise be to you my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs. These words are from a famous prayer or canticle of St. Francis of Assisi.
We were guided through this discussion by Fr. Steve Dunn and Dr. Denis O’Hara a professor from St. Mike’s who teaches ecology and theology. There was a lively and informative exchange of ideas concerning the present environmental and ecological health of planet earth.
The heart of the matter question Pope Francis asks is,’ what kind of a world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up.’ I’ve often wondered while baptizing an infant ‘what kind of a world will this kid grow up in and in what kind of a world his children will grow up?
You’ve heard me say this many times before, ‘The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth and what we do to the earth we do to ourselves.’
What we need is a whole new mind set as regards our relationship with Earth, mother Earth. Genesis tells us we are to subdue the earth and conquer it, be its master and that’s what we’ve been doing. We imagine ourselves to be stewards of God’s creation, managers and exploiters of Earth. Our prophet Francis calls us to know that we are kin; we are family with every life form that shares with us our common home Earth. Pope Francis teaches ‘when all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in our land, then all life is endangered. All these life forms are inter-connected and when one life form in reduced or becomes extinct all other life forms, including the human, are lessened. What we do to the earth we do to ourselves.
Leaders of nations are becoming more and more aware of the environmental crises we face through climate change. Our own federal government refuses to face the global crises happening around us, it’s the elephant in our living room. Hopefully Pope Francis’ words and warning will have some impact on the world’s leaders meeting in Paris next December to call nations away from our dependence of fossil fuels which are the main cause of the climate changes impacting the world. It is a global climate summit.
His neighbours drove the prophet Jesus out of his home town. Who does he think he is tells us how to live our lives. We can be sure our prophet Pope Francis will be driven out of the Board Rooms of industry and commerce whose sole focus is exploitation and profit. Pope Francis will be challenged in the corridors of congresses and senates and houses of parliament. He will be told ‘stick to your God talk’ you know nothing about science, trade and world development and politics. As one leader of global industry said, ‘Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.’- another elephant.
Will we as individuals listen to the words of our prophet Francis? He is calling us not to just a change in life style, to live simply that others may simply live; our prophet Francis is calling us to a whole new mind set, a change in the way we look at our relationships with God’s good creation. This will not be easy. We are so set in our ways, so caught up in consumerism and wastefulness. We are not Lords of creation, we are kin, and we are family with all of creation. He tells us that the bounty of the earth is meant for all of us but especially the poor. He asks us to hear the cry of Earth and the cry of the poor.
Our prophet Francis offers us words of hope when he tells us, ‘The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather all creatures are moving forward with us and through us toward a common point of arrival, which is God.’
The question is: will we listen to the words of the prophet Francis and let his words challenge us to hear and answer the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor?
Founded by St. Paul of the Cross, every Passionist takes a special vow to spend his or her energies in promoting remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus, the memory of the Cross, and reflection of the meaning of the Cross for the world.