Dear friends, peace and wellbeing to you; As you may remember, about five years ago Pope Francis issued an encyclical titled Laudato Si (meaning Praised be the Lord – words taken from the Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi), in which he addresses concerns about the earth and challenges us all as human beings to be more responsible in caring for our common home for the sake and wellbeing of thumanity.
This is really an urgent call to conversion, an invitation to open our hearts and minds to be able to care for one another and for the world we live in with everything created in it. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly recommend that you do it soon. It’s online!
Seriously, how common is our Common Home? As individuals and as society, we should be aware of how we are treating the earth, our common home, for that is a reflection of our concern for others and for the wellbeing of our children’s children. The digital revolution has introduced us to robotics, nanoscience and biotechnology that can be used to manipulate any living system, and while there are benefits from these discoveries, there are also unfortunate consequences. Nanoscience deals with extremely small things that can be used across all the other science fields.
It is true that in the book of Genesis, God granted humans dominion over the earth, but we have often used this passage to justify abuse and exploitation of nature with little or no consideration of the consequences, and that’s not the correct understanding of the Bible. We need to understand it within its context, recognizing that we are to “till and keep” the beautiful garden of the world.
“Tilling” refers to cultivating and plowing, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving without destroying. This tells us that there is a close relationship between human beings and nature. We all have the right to take from the bounty of the earth for our subsistence, but at the same time, we have a duty to protect mother earth, share its bounty and ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.
With the advances of science and technology we have the means to care for and improve human life. We have created wonderful appliances that we can use in our homes as well as amazing bridges and buildings; great transportation systems to move us faster, and access to new technology to help us enhance art and music. Art and music, for example, can be a strong vehicle of communication to help us live in joyful harmony, and yet many times we use it to curse, offend and destroy each other.
We were created equal in the image and likeness of God with the necessary intelligence, willfulness and the capacity to relate to others and be able to dialogue and avoid wars, abortion, hunger, homelessness, racism, envy and greed, social aggression and violence, drugs and human trafficking. It seems at times that the more abilities we acquire the more powerful we have become, but how have we used this power?
There is a tendency to believe that increase in power means we have made progress, but the social chaos we encounter in many parts of the world tells us that we have not been trained to use power responsibly but selfishly. It saddens me when I see people throwing plastic bottles and garbage out of their car windows on the freeways.
Our focus, many times, has been on ourselves and our immediate needs rather than on the entire human race and on the planet, our collective common home. We seem to have become a people who believe that we are free as long as we have all the freedom to consume and dispose as we wish. But our freedom fades when we are easily convinced that we constantly need more and more. Oftentimes we are referred to as consumers rather than human beings. The influence of our social media and digital technology, while helping us to make our lives easier and get things done faster, have also exposed us to an overload of unnecessary and harmful information.
We have become a people who need instant gratification. In some ways it has hypnotized us into thinking that “more and faster” is better. Our children get depressed if they are not constantly attached to their digital world. For many of them going outdoors to see and smell the flowers, contemplate the beauty of the mountains and landscapes, the birds and sunsets, doesn’t mean much. They don’t allow themselves any time for reflection or contemplation of the amazing, beautiful creation that surrounds us. But it is not late to learn how to live wisely, think deeply and love generously.
Pope Francis invites us to pause and reflect, assess and reevaluate our ways of living, for we are all connected. Life in all forms is constantly changing, and whether or not we notice or care about it, we are all affected in the end. The decisions we make today concern the entire human race. Everything has a purpose for its existence; every person, every animal, every plant has value; every molecule of air is necessary for our survival. Every individual has the right to a decent life and happiness.
When we learn how to honor, respect and share this beautiful world around us and all that is in it, we will most certainly be able to experience peace and wellbeing among humanity; that was and continues to be Christ Jesus’ dream for all.
I’m happy to say that our Diocese has embraced the Holy Father’s call to environmental stewardship in Laudato Si. Our Laudato Si Committee has organized four Care for Creation Days that have helped students and families reflect on the natural beauty of our Diocese while learning how to practice conservation. The Committee was also a driving force in the decision of the Bishops of California to issue the 2019 statement “God Calls Us to Care for Our Common Home,” which defines some specific commitments of the Church to improving the ecological wellbeing of our State.
As Bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino, I want to state that the strong commitment we have shown to living out the call of Laudato Si since it was released in 2015 will continue under my leadership. There are many exciting projects happening in our parish and diocesan facilities in the areas of conservation and alternative energy. We are answering the call!
Now, allow me to invite you to pray with Pope Francis: “All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as sisters and brothers, harming no one. Oh God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
“Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.”
Amen! Thank you for taking the time to read this reflection. Peace and blessings!