Encyclical: respect for human and environmental ecology Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Jul. 02, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

Around this time of year, things typically slow down in this space. Our Catholic Herald usually has a reduced schedule during the summer, and I always take a bit of a "summer recess" from writing these columns.

That being said, there’s been enough happening in the last two weeks to fill numerous columns, and so I feel compelled to write.

Two very major things happened this past Friday -- the ordination of six men to the priesthood for the diocese, and the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision redefining marriage.

But, I'll actually not use my space here to address either of those events, although I'm tempted to do so. I’ve spoken often and passionately about the priesthood and about marriage in the past and the beauty of the Church's teaching (and I'll continue to do so). Instead, I feel it necessary to address Pope Francis's Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si', which was gaining a great deal of attention prior to Friday, and which, I think, demands our attention here.

I am certain that you have seen a good deal with regard to the Pope's encyclical and I am certain too that a good deal of that has been written through the lens of particular scientific, political, and/or economic viewpoints.

Conversation and debate

Now, Pope Francis has said explicitly that neither he nor the Church expect this encyclical to resolve matters that are scientific, political, or economic. Instead, he insists, his hope is that he might begin a conversation and debate on the matters.

That being said, it would make sense that people have and will try to use the Pope's words to push their scientific theories, and political or economic agendas. However, we cannot lose sight of the big picture of this encyclical, for the sake of packing it simply and neatly into political, economic, or scientific viewpoints. It is a rich document with themes that speak to larger ideas.

Key words are integral ecology

To "get" this encyclical there are two words that provide a certain foundational framework. Those two words are: integral ecology.

Now, to some in the field of ecology, this phrase is linked to certain thinkers who are decidedly not Catholic. It seems that Pope Francis, however, is using this phrase in his own way -- one which is consistent with Catholic teaching.

Integral ecology means an understanding of humanity and our "common home" pulled together as a unified whole. As Pope Francis says, referring back to his predecessor, "'The book of nature is one and indivisible,' and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth."

Historically in the United States, there has been a gap between those who stand for principles most respectful of human ecology (opposition to the killing of humans in the womb being the most urgent and obvious) and those who are interested primarily in respect for matters of the environment.

In fact, often times those who are most "pro-environment," consider human population as an obstacle to achieving environmental harmony and are thus pro-abortion or in favor of limiting family sizes, purely for reasons of lessening impacts on the environment. As a result, those who are adamantly "pro-life," often eschew any "pro-environment" talk as a muddling of proper priorities and therefore, they do not want to be associated with such issues.

Humanity and ecology

Thus, we have seen two generalized factions grow, even within the Church: 1) those who stand strongly for the environmental ecology; and 2) those who stand strongly for “human ecology,” including the human body.

What Laudato Si' says is that you cannot have this disconnect between respecting and promoting the ecology of the human person, while disregarding our environmental ecology -- and vice versa.

In fact, the encyclical says, if you don’t have a concrete respect for the human body and human nature, your respect for the environment lacks credibility. In other words, if you're going to be an environmental activist, you cannot be pro-choice. And if you are pro-life, you must have concern for all of God’s creation too!

The Catholic-Christian understanding of the environment, informed as it is by the law of human nature, is a unified whole as regards the ecology of humanity. If one does not understand the reason-for-being of humankind, one cannot possibly understand fully the reasons for protecting the environment. People may still say they want to respect the ecology, but they can't explain the "why" on the deepest levels.

And so, a key point of Pope Francis in this encyclical is that you cannot place the ecology of the human person in opposition to the ecology of the environment. The ecology of the environment takes on its true meaning as a result of the ecology of the human person, and in the end they are an integrated whole. Therefore, you also cannot say that you care for the ecology of the human person without caring for the ecology of the environment.

We are in a day when people, more and more, are living as if reality is what they make of it. A day when what truly matters is what I desire "my reality" to be. If you have an attitude like that, and cannot respect, for instance, masculinity and feminity as a gift, how can you respect any of the rest of creation as a gift?

You can say, "I do respect the environment," but you certainly don’t have any reason for respecting it -- at least any reason that is logically coherent. The fact that you do not respect the ecology of human nature undercuts any respect you may have for the ecology of all creation -- there is a contradiction. One cannot argue against manipulating nature by overloading it with greenhouse gases, but then claim that it is perfectly fine to manipulate our bodies into whatever we want.

Understanding human person

Our understanding of the human person is also integral. We are not simply embodied souls, whose existence is only spirit or mind. Our bodies are important to who we are. That is why the Church teaches that what we do in and/or to our bodies matters. We are both body and spirit, created to be that way by God.

Therefore, if you believe you can manipulate your bodies in whatever way you want, you cannot possibly make a convincing argument against manipulating the rest of creation in whatever way you want. The body is our presence in the world, through which we relate to the environment. No one wants to talk about that necessary point.

Now, while the Pope states clearly that he does not want to resolve matters that are scientific, political, or economic, it is undeniable that he speaks concretely about global warming and about matters of science, politics, and economics. He weighs in on his opinion of some of the causes and effects of global warming and there is truth in what he says. But, at the very beginning of these discussions, he says, what he wants to do is restart the conversation on these topics, and he makes his own contribution.

The environment

As regards to the environment, the concrete challenges that Pope Francis extends are two-fold: 1) that we reexamine these issues and have very serious and fruitful conversations on solutions; and 2) that we all reexamine our own ways of living and consider ways that we can live, more fully, our respect for all of God's creation.

We all need to be challenged (and I know this applies to me) to consider where we are being wasteful and where we are living as if creation is but a tool for our frivolous use. True respect for God’s creation, however, should flow from our respect for the Creator and ourselves.

We cannot truly come to a respect for our environment unless we understand that there is a Creator who has made all things good, and that the pinnacle of creation is mankind.

This reality of God's creative plan should drive us in quick-fire succession to: 1) praise the Creator (Laudato Si' -- "praise to You"); 2) see the goodness of the Creator’s plan for all humankind; and 3) participate in that plan — care for God’s creation both because it is a good gift, and so that we might care for one another.

So often the Church is criticized for weighing in on things that supposedly do not affect it. "What I do with my body or in my life doesn’t affect you," the argument goes. "Stay out of my personal life!"

What each and every member of the human race does affects the whole of creation -- that is precisely the point of Pope Francis in this encyclical, and it is precisely the reason the Church, and all people of goodwill, should care both about things that damage the human ecology and the environmental ecology.

Read, consider the encyclical

This is only a very brief look at a few key points of the encyclical and there are so many things in the document that are worthy of our prayer and consideration. It is long, but it's not boring, and it provides challenges for everyone.

Let us read, and pray, and consider it. And, more importantly, let us discuss these things, overcoming our political and economic agendas, in order to come to a greater respect for the whole of ecology -- both human and environmental. And let us praise our Creator, recognizing the wonders and beauty of His Creation.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! May God bless each one of you!

Praised be Jesus Christ!