The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Paragraphs 76 through 83 give us a reflection on “The Mystery of the Universe,” the title of section III of Chapter Two. To start with, Pope Francis offers a technical distinction between two concepts:
76. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.
An adjustment in the vocabulary for people of faith? Possibly an important distinction when we are speaking of things of reason and things of faith.
The next section contains a pearl of great price that is going to be the fodder for much theological development in generations to come, I suspect….
I saw a picture recently in one of my favorite magazines , the British Economist , which is relevant here . It had been taken by Hubble the American space telescope . The image shows a patch of sky less than 1/150th the size of a full moon . This speck of space contains more than 5,000 galaxies . Multiply that across the heavens and one realizes that the universe contains somewhere north of 150 billion galaxies . Each of those , in turn , contains billions of stars . The human species is the guardian of the health of this microscopic little speck of it all . It is good and proper that the Holy Father , the vicar of Christ on Earth , is taking a major role in warning us of the growing environmental dangers to our home planet . Whether any of the billions of other planets have intelligent beings tackling these same problems remains to be seen . Some of them may have become dead because of indifference to that planet’s polluted atmosphere . Our final demise may come from the killing grey fog of irreversible pollution– instead of from fire and brimstone . By the way, the head of the Vatican’s Observatory , Br. Guy Consolmagno ,S.J., believes that a good number of the other planets have intelligent life . If they have immortal souls only God knows ! Much to think about .
The Hubble Deep Sky project, yes. Pondering billions of galaxies–the ones large enough to behold through Hubble–and possibly sextillions of stars, it would seem there’s much entrusted to us if indeed we are the only souls in the universe. Our very, very small perspective gives us pause. Or it should.