Laudato Si 11: Affection, Not Naïvete

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

Picking up on the theme of the pilgrim mystic in LS 10, I don’t think we can easily dismiss the 13th century man from Assisi as a naif.

11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.[THOMAS OF CELANO, The Life of Saint Francis, I, 29, 81: in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, New York-London-Manila, 1999, 251]

The love spoken of is not the same as infatuation, as the Holy Father describes it here. True and committed love is not self-absorption, but a choice. And a choice to love often moves one in response to the beloved in unexpected ways. The choice to pay attention to the planet is more than a wrestling match between economic numbers and temperature readings.

His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.[The Major Legend of Saint Francis, VIII, 6, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, New York-London-Manila, 2000, 590]

There is a distinction between using creatures (and people) as objects of obsession, rather than as opportunities to love. I don’t perceive in Francis the extremes of what is essential a narcissism that arranges loved ones in an array of support. The choice to love is one of self-giving. Not affection for its own sake.

Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior. 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.

People obsessed with a beloved, family or friends, or their pets are just another version of exploiter.

By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Use and control: do you think the Holy Father has his diagnosis right? What would your comments be?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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