Laudato Si 147: Ecology of Daily Life

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Section III of the four chapter looks at the “Ecology of daily life.” [147-155] What does that mean?

147. Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives. These settings influence the way we think, feel and act. In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighborhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity. We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.

We are not our environment, but our surroundings are part of how we communicate to the world–this is inescapable.

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment

Laudato Si 146: Land Is Not A Commodity

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Let’s wrap up the Holy Father’s theme of “cultural ecology.”

146. In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.

It’s not just a matter of buying out indigenous persons.

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment

Laudato Si 145: Local Damage

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. This is a sad tale, repeated often over the past five centuries:

145. Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.

Up until a century ago, it would have been the fruits of colonialism. Today, corporations and the elites of the Third World have come to the fore as tramplers of culture and tradition.


Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment

Laudato Si 144: More Cultural Ecology

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

144. A consumerist vision of human beings, encouraged by the mechanisms of today’s globalized economy, has a leveling effect on cultures, diminishing the immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity.

And the cultures most powerful, emboldened by celebrity, money, military might, and other factors tend to think theirs is the only way.

Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlooking the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community.

I think of that monastic tradition when a community gathers for discernment, all have the opportunity to speak, starting with the youngest.

New processes taking shape cannot always fit into frameworks imported from outside; they need to be based in the local culture itself. As life and the world are dynamic realities, so our care for the world must also be flexible and dynamic. Merely technical solutions run the risk of addressing symptoms and not the more serious underlying problems.

I think one can apply discernment to technology, but what Pope Francis seems to be getting at is the satisfaction that quick and easy answers short-circuit a deeper look.

There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture. Nor can the notion of the quality of life be imposed from without, for quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each human group.

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment

On Vatican II

In general response to comments from the past few days, I thought I’d summarize my position on Vatican II and the liturgy with more clarity. This first piece will strike some as negative, and it doesn’t yet really touch on liturgy. But I hope it helps frame my thinking and assessment of the Church in terms of history and its saints.

My reading of the conciliar documents, and church history at the time before, during and after Trent (1545-1563) is that Vatican II is now, and will be seen in the future as a council with far more impact than Trent. It’s not about a comparison of theology as much as it is the range and depth of influence in the whole of Christian life.

Trent was a reaction to cultural circumstances of the 1500’s. It seems to me mostly about the printing press and the Reformation. Rome dawdled on issues of authority, communication, and most of all, credibility in the decades leading up to those mid-century meetings.

I think there were some positive aspects coming out of that 16th century council, including a unified liturgy that nourished many Catholics for centuries. But it took three whole generations (1545-1614) for that to begin to take effect. Its fatal flaw was the modernism of stasis–the illusion that things had always been the same and had to remain the same.

Even before the internet, communications were vastly improved for Vatican II, and church reform more quickly took hold. The immediate impact of the councils have no comparison, and even traditionalists concede it was too much too fast. That alone suggests that Trent paled in comparison to the 20th century council.

My own sense is that Vatican II was decades overdue, and the Church’s lack of action had already cost it dearly on its home continent racked by a continuing war (1914-1989) which was piled atop a century of cultural upheaval and no small measure of violence. The institution sided mainly with Europe’s aristocracy, and largely left abandoned the vast majority of believers in their daily struggles with industrialization, new philosophies, colonialism, and other experiences that disrupted not only the life they knew, but in many ways, worsened their overall condition of life. (Can you imagine the 19th century popes telling Euro-royalty to offer it up? Neither can I.) That Catholicism didn’t lose its total grip beyond the 1% is probably due to the Holy Spirit working through saintly witness of women religious and lay people who ministered to the needs of the poor. And we know from so many biographies that so many of these saints suffered privations at the hands of those who should have been their closest allies and supporters.

Consider that just a few centuries after Christ, evangelization by the apostles and companions of Jesus had produced a culture that gave rise to people we revere as doctors of the Church in formerly pagan lands of present-day Algeria (Augustine), Germany (Ambrose of Milan), the Balkan Peninsula (Jerome), and even Rome (Gregory the Great). And those saints are just for starters. What has five centuries of Christian colonialism given in Latin America, Africa, and Asia? Have the great doctors, mystics, and teachers been produced, but just ignored by Europeans? Or has the great Tridentine evangelization impulse been more empty and unsupported–or even suppressed?–rather than openly fruitful? My own sense is to lean to the side of suppression, especially when I consider that one of the most religious countries in the world has only two canonized saints.

So when I think about Trent, I think “not hardly enough” in terms of what it added to the faith. And for the many plusses of the Tridentine Era (1570-1962) I wonder if many of its saints and thinkers enriched Catholicism in spite of, rather than because of its preceding council.

My own grades: Trent, C-minus; Vatican I, F; Vatican II B. More later, especially on liturgy.

Posted in Commentary | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Laudato Si 143: Cultural Ecology

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. What is Cultural Ecology?Sections 143-146 look at the topic, which involves a bit more subtlety than the destruction of ancient monuments.

143. Together with the patrimony of nature, there is also an historic, artistic and cultural patrimony which is likewise under threat. This patrimony is a part of the shared identity of each place and a foundation upon which to build a habitable city. It is not a matter of tearing down and building new cities, supposedly more respectful of the environment yet not always more attractive to live in. Rather, there is a need to incorporate the history, culture and architecture of each place, thus preserving its original identity.

This requires artists. I’ve known architects who were certainly artistic in equal proportion to their skills as engineers. At least in my country, the hurdle is a certain pragmatic approach: save money and provide the minimal effort needed to build new.

Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense. More specifically, it calls for greater attention to local cultures when studying environmental problems, favoring a dialogue between scientific-technical language and the language of the people. Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment.

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment

Laudato Si 142: Concern for the Quality of Life

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Wrapping up the subheading “Environmental, economic and social ecology,” let’s read, first with Pope Benedict XVI:

142. If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life. “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment”.[Caritas in Veritate 51]

Humans are social beings, so naturally our interactions with each other are deeply rooted and have cause and effect:

In this sense, social ecology is necessarily institutional, and gradually extends to the whole of society, from the primary social group, the family, to the wider local, national and international communities. Within each social stratum, and between them, institutions develop to regulate human relationships. Anything which weakens those institutions has negative consequences, such as injustice, violence and loss of freedom. A number of countries have a relatively low level of institutional effectiveness, which results in greater problems for their people while benefiting those who profit from this situation.

As power devolves from people, it is taken up by governments or others with resources and power.

Whether in the administration of the state, the various levels of civil society, or relationships between individuals themselves, lack of respect for the law is becoming more common.

I’d say it goes beyond lack of respect for law. Incivility across modern culture also shows a lack of respect for tradition and courtesy. But yes, we know from experience in my country that the 1% openly flaunt the law–we’ve seen in out in the open since 2008.

Laws may be well framed yet remain a dead letter. Can we hope, then, that in such cases, legislation and regulations dealing with the environment will really prove effective? We know, for example, that countries which have clear legislation about the protection of forests continue to keep silent as they watch laws repeatedly being broken. Moreover, what takes place in any one area can have a direct or indirect influence on other areas. Thus, for example, drug use in affluent societies creates a continual and growing demand for products imported from poorer regions, where behavior is corrupted, lives are destroyed, and the environment continues to deteriorate.

For those addicted to things other than power, we see a deep indulgence for addiction that has consequences beyond one’s family, co-workers, and neighborhood.

Comments on any of this?

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment