Philip Kosloski graduated from the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Catholic Studies and completed his Master of Arts degree in Theology with the Augustine Institute. He is a writer and author of In the Footsteps of a Saint: John Paul II’s Visit to Wisconsin. He blogs at philipkosloski.com and writes to help all Catholics master the art of prayer by conquering the practical obstacles that prevent a fruitful relationship with Christ.
While the world seeks to analyze Pope Francis’ encyclical and place it into a political framework, it would be much more beneficial to read it and simply seek ways to live it in our everyday lives.
Pope Francis, being a professional “bridge-builder” (pontifex), gives us the opportunity to bridge yet another chasm that has developed in our fallen human world. With the rise of the technological age, we have distanced ourselves from nature and proudly profess how we have become its “master.” Pope Francis recognized the dangers of this type of world-view and wrote “Laudato Si” to teach us a more human approach to our God-given task of earthly stewardship.
Practically speaking, he gave us at least four ways that we can live-out this ancient teaching of “responsible stewardship:”
1. Approach Nature with “Awe and Wonder”. Pope Francis reflected on how Saint Francis of Assisi would “call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’” and saw how “if we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously” (11).
Often we are tempted to see ourselves as “masters” or “consumers” of the earth instead of faithful “stewards” of what God has given us. If we see nature as a part of God’s creation and see our connection to all living things, we are struck by its beauty and seek to care for it instead of subdue it.
2. Reuse Instead of Throw Away. Pope Francis sees our world “beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” with the increasing amounts of trash that take over landscapes that were once beauties to behold (22). This is due to our “throwaway culture” that views everything old as disposable. We live always seeking to acquire what is “new” and instead of being resourceful or thankful for what we have, we simply throw it away.
Pope Francis highlights recycling as an essential part of life, which will greatly reduce the need for landfills and will help us preserve our earth for generations to come. A somber yet comical look at this type of “throwaway culture” is vividly brought to life in the Pixar movie “Wall-E.”
3. Preserve Nature’s Diversity. Pope Francis warns us not to “think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves” (33). He noted that “[e]ach year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever.” This has grave consequences not only for the general well-being of the natural world, but also for our own health. By destroying different species, we lose potential cures for human illnesses as well as upset the balance in nature.
God created earth with a certain “symphony” and by eliminating entire species, we lose the full “music” of creation.
4. Have Physical Contact with Nature. Pope Francis writes that “were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature” (44). His comments are in reference to cities and neighborhoods that are “congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space.”
This poses an interesting reflection as Pope Francis sees many of our cities as “inhuman” because of their ability to disconnect us from the natural world. Many of us who live in the middle of a city never see grass or trees and are only familiar with cement sidewalks and metal skyscrapers.
There is something very unnatural about this type of living, one which anyone who lives in the country can affirm. A very moving portrayal of this reality can be found in the children’s story, “The Little House.”
In summary, Pope Francis challenges us to rethink our modern view of creation and our place in it. Instead of putting ourselves over it as a “master” or “exploiter,” we need to accept our role as “steward” of God’s great gift to mankind.