In the past, I have not readily recommended reading any of our Pope’s encyclicals or Pastoral Letters, some of them were so steeped in theology and church speak, they were very difficult to read. I believe that both letters “Evangelium Gaudium’ and “Laudato Si” are readable documents worthy of our time, attention and energy, and are significant documents that all of us should read, reflect on and pray over.
Pope Francis challenges us with the title of the first chapter, “What is happening to our Common Home?” We have known for some time that the rapid pace of technological development is racing ahead of our moral and ethical deliberative processes. Human activity is moving much more rapidly than biological evolution. As scientists discover new ways to unlock the secrets of DNA, we don’t have a clue in terms of all or any unintended consequences. A scientific development that seems to offer a tremendous good needs exhaustive testing to ensure that its effects are truly beneficial with no unknown hidden consequences.
We are facing continuing dilemmas with pollution, waste, and the results of a throw away culture. We do not have a completely circular production cycle that from beginning to end, we take raw materials, create a useful product and then at the end of its life cycle, re-use or re-purpose all the elements in that product. Too many products end up in landfills. Being able to truly recycle every component of any product is to preserve and conserve our planet and that is a challenging goal and objective.
The changing climate patterns worldwide are symptomatic of some greater change that is yet to be understood or fully known. Scientists now seem to agree that what is going on is closely connected with human activities. Reducing consumption of many resources is a goal and objective for the good of the whole world.
One example is the issue of water in chapter one, “Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term. “Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances.”
We understand that more clearly in California now that our demand for water exceeds the sustainable supply. Four years of drought prove that statement, and land subsistence from pumping water from deeper and deeper wells is irreversible. Somehow like the people of Australia, we need to develop better conservation measures, reusing grey water, developing more efficient and affordable clothes and dish washers, employing cisterns, finding better ways of watering crops and growing foods that are sustainable in this climate are also laudable goals.
One of Pope Francis’s goals is to improve life for all of humanity by reasonable, equitable industrial and societal uses of the precious and limited resources we have to ensure the quality of future life on earth for all peoples not just those who have the immediate investment and capital resources.
I find his encyclical thought provoking, challenging and a great stimulus for prayer and personal reflection by asking myself: How can I live my life any differently and also live it with joy and gratitude?
Father Larry Hendel