It should have been obvious. I had read the entire encyclical, Laudato Si’, and had read the phrase “our common home” countless times. But it was after reading Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam’s book, The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’ (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2019) that I realized the immensity of Pope Francis’ paradigm shift.
We have so much more at stake than an “environmental problem.” This really is a crisis of “our common home.” And as such, everyone is involved; we cannot be indifferent.
An “environmental crisis” can be overlooked. After all, it is, environmental. It has to do with something outside of us, something external. Ok, so we are not merely complacent, but if we attend to doing a few things that are “environmentally friendly;” isn’t that enough? Isn’t that all we really can do?
After all, we are not scientists. We don’t understand carbon cycles and ozone layers. We’re not geologists that can think in terms of glaciation and warming, tides and volcanos; we don’t think in terms of millions of years, let alone four billion years. We don’t deal with water tables, fault lines, tectonic plate shifts and the disappearance of drinkable water. We’re not economists that can wrap our heads around investments and profits, local economies and global economies and why buying affordable shirts in the west may mean exploiting undeveloped countries; why having strawberries year round and coffee means some villages starve. We’re not politicians who differentiate between “aid” and loans, and why some loans to developing countries can’t be simply written off. We don’t think about those things. There’s nothing e can do about them anyway.
And the climate change is not happening in our own back yard. Yet.
Certainly, people are concerned; some, even alarmed. More so day by day. But there are still more who, in the terms of the Yale Study on The Six Faces of America (https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/about/projects/global-warmings-six-americas/ ) are “cautious’, “disengaged”, “doubtful” and “dismissive.” We can carry on with our normal routines.
However, in Kureethadam’s words “Pope Francis reminds us of what we are really sleepwalking into: a possible collapse of our common home.” (p. 21)
This crisis has to do with “the discourse (logos) centered around our very common home (oikos). It is an eco-logical crisis having to do with the fate of our very home.”
He goes on to say that “Earth is our home, and our only home. We are Earthlings, imago mundi, formed from the dust of the earth.” (p.21) If this common home called Earth collapses, there is no ark that will take all life forms on earth to populate another planet. In spite of what our movies tell us.
This is not just one of many challenges facing humanity; this is about the destiny of our home, the wellbeing of all living beings now and for generations to come. We cannot remain indifferent. We are involved. We are interconnected (a major theme of Pope Francis, as well as many environmentalists). And the challenges before us are more than scientific and political, and social and economic, and health-related and…
Now the picture of this paradigm shift becomes clear. Now it becomes understandable why the encyclical addresses the future of humanity but also the future of all living creatures. This is why a religious leader, such as a Pope, takes on the ethics of consumerism and the dangers of political decisions being made by non-elected businesspeople, without the input of indigenous people, women, others marginalized and those most direly affected by economic and political decisions. This is more than Bible and Heaven and God’s salvation.
Pope Francis uses very intimate language about our home, our sisters and our brothers, not exclusively the human family, but, in the language of Francis of Assisi, fire, water, moon and earth.
Think of your own family. You live in a neighborhood. There is an historical context to this neighborhood. Life is not just about today but is shaped by a lot of yesterdays, and hopefully the dreams for many tomorrows. Like it or not, there are forces affecting your family over which you have no control. Matters like race, gender, education, physical and mental health. And yet you assume some responsibility.
Your livelihood depends on your abilities to hold a job and complete your responsibilities. But you have little control over company mergers, office closures, or the price of your goods overseas. And you may have completed high school, but you had no control over the resources available to you, again because of race, gender, or economic class. Not all high schools are the same.
You do all you can to maintain a safe home, a comfortable home. You make the repairs required, as you can afford them. As you are physically able. But prices go up. Rivers rise; streets flood. The garden doesn’t produce like it used to. Seasons are different. Sunlight, rainfall and wind patterns are changing.
There may be elements in your soil, your water, your air which affect your health, even the health of your unborn children.
Looking after your home is so much more complicated than paying some energy bills mowing the lawn and putting food on the table.
And what’s true for your home is true also for mine. And for those homes up the street and across town. Homes in the next town and the next province have similar issues. As do homes in another country and on another continent.
And what about the forty million currently displaced from homes because of war, famine, flooding, drought, and other disasters?
And then there are the creatures of the air and the sea; the forest and the prairie. What’s home to them? And how are the decisions we make affecting those homes?
What we are facing is more than an environmental crisis. There are threats to our common home. And as neighbors we are all involved. We all have a stake in and a responsibility for our common home.