Category Archives: Creation

A Catholic Congressman is Boycotting Pope Francis. Let me count the reasons this saddens me.

As Pope Francis prepares to make history by becoming the first pope to address a joint session of Congress, one Congressman has made news by declaring he will boycott the pope’s visit, because the Congressman believes the pope is going to focus on climate change (which is probably a fair bet) instead of other Catholic social teachings.  The Congressman goes on to outline all the Catholic doctrines he believes the pope is ignoring – like defense of religious liberty, advocacy for Christian refugees, defense of life – and states he cannot as a good Catholic and American leader allow the pope pass on this misguided agenda. I linked to his words, so you can read them for yourselves.

American liberals are loving this. After years of being labeled “cafeteria Catholics” for picking and choosing what elements of church doctrine they chose to embrace, they are reveling in the Schadenfreude of turned tables. They are hoping for a counter-push in which the new pope demands conservative Catholics embrace the more liberal elements of Church teaching or be turned away at the Communion line. (Digression: has The Onion done the story on the Midwest archbishop who warns Francis not to come to communion in his diocese for risk of being spurned?)

Not me. Here are five reasons why the Congressman’s decision brings me nothing but sadness:

  1. He ignores the pope’s records on the issues he cites. If there has been a more vocal defender of persecuted Christians (and other religious minorities), or care for refugees, I can’t think of who it would be. He has been consistent in defending the Catholic defense of life from conception to natural death, and I would be shocked if, during his discussion of the”throwaway culture” of the developed world he didn’t clearly reference the unborn and unwanted in multiple settings. To object on grounds that he hasn’t done enough on those issues requires a willful ignorance or a concerning lack of information.
  2. He ignores the continuity of Francis’ statements with Church teaching. If he read even just my blog, he would know that Francis’ encyclical actually plows very little new ground.
  3. He missed the real issue. I mean, I know climate change is the hot button, but Francis will say much more about inequality and the defense of the poor. Which, again, draws on doctrine central to Catholic teaching since at least 1891. If you’re going to boycott a pope, it seems like you ought to do it based on his primary disagreement with your policy, not a down-ballot issue. (More on this in the next post.)
  4. He made the most common choice that leads us astray. Look, for all the “Jesus, meek and mild” images, there is a disconcerting theme that runs through the Gospel about how Jesus and His message ultimately divides us from each other by forcing us to choose if we are with Him or with something else. Whether you are a liberal Christian or a conservative Christian or a (insert descriptor here) Christian, the sword of the Gospel will eventually cut through the word you put before “Christian” and make you choose. “Which is it?” And most of us, at least those of us who live in societies where Christianity is socially acceptable, will probably choose the adjective over the noun at the end of the day. This should be to our shame, but we usually wrap it around us as a prophet’s mantle of defending the true faith, because the alternative is to be exposed as selfish, idolatrous, wrong. It’s not an epic fail but a depressingly mundane one. Gloat only if you are blind to the ways it could happen to you. Feel the sadness Jesus feels when the rich young ruler fails to answer the bell.
  5. Boycotting shows how dysfunctional our political culture is. We knew this, of course. But when a member of Congress proudly proclaims that the way he treats people he disagrees with is to boycott them, to intentionally and publicly refuse to engage them in an encounter (to use a common Francis term), it acknowledges painfully and publicly how horribly off-course our non-discourse is. Disagree all you want (more on that in the next post), but really? Turn your back on people you disagree with, even if they lead the Church you attend? How effective can a legislative body, or a nation, be that embraces that as a tactic for dialogue?

Here’s what I hope Pope Francis does. I hope he gives the speech he planned to, and then, as quietly as a pope in DC in the social media world can do, I hope he seeks out this Congressman, embraces him, and tells him that, even if he is not ready to embrace the entirety of truth, he can join the rest of us imperfect sinners, Francis included, in a journey together.

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Little things matter.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis outlines several daunting challenges of modern life: pollution, climate change, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, decline of human life, breakdown of society, global inequality. That’s a lot. 

Dig a little on just one of these, like this one, is enough to leave you thinking we are, well, in bad shape.

So it’s valuable and important to note that Francis believes that not only can we work with God to pull this out, but that little things matter. He argues — plenty — for action at the international policy level. But he also rattles off stuff that we can individually make a difference. “There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions.”

His list from 211 and 213 (and I would love to see an app developed that helps you decide how best to act to fight these multiple challenges):

  • Use less heating (and air)
  • Wear warmer clothes (or cooler)
  • Avoiding the use of paper and plastic
  • Reducing water consumption
  • Separating refuse
  • Cooking only what can reasonably be consumed
  • Showing care for other living beings
  • Using public transport or car-pooling
  • Planting trees
  • Turning off unnecessary lights
  • Keep things clean
  • Ask without demanding
  • Say thank you
  • Don’t be greedy
  • Ask forgiveness

Dare you to use that as your examination of conscience when you next go to confession.

What’s really new in Laudato Si’

Most analysts have focused on how Francis draws on his predecessors and Scripture to expound on his message in his encyclical, and that’s not new. Every social encyclical I’ve ever read does the same. It’s the style, as much as numbering the overlong “paragraphs” is.

Some analysts have focused on how Francis reconciles faith and science in his argument. That’s not new unless you tuned out the Church after the whole “Galileo” incident.

Lots of analysts note the emphasis Francis puts on the poor, and that’s not new at all.

I’ve echoed the point of others that one thing that’s new in Laudato Si’ is the way he draws on fellow bishops for reference in making his case. That’s new, and it’s probably going to be a while until people catch on to how much that precedent, if followed, will change the Church by decentralizing it.

But as I read it, the one thing that strikes me as new in terms of papal pronouncements in the encyclical is the way Francis elevates Creation as a reflection of God’s divine nature. It is, you have to say, very much in the tradition of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. He acknowledges from beginning to end that the worl that surrounds us has value not only as the raw material of our human abundance, but also as a loving and beloved entity in relationship with God. 

Two of the most beautiful stretches of Laudato Si’ express this theological claim. In paragraph 33, he says “It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves…Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”

In 77: “Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things…Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection.” We are used to hearing this sort of thing about an unborn child. Francis means this for the amoeba, flower and butterfly in its own way as well.

That’s new. As I looked through the references to ecology and the environment in the works of his predecessors since Pope Leo XIII began the genre of social encyclicals in 1891, I didn’t see this. I believe that, just as powerfully as John Paul II’s Theology of the Body will transform our understanding of human relationship over the decades to come, this thoroughly Franciscan understanding of Creation has the power to transform the way we understand the workd around us in a new way.