‘Laudato Si’: Praising God in everything

One of my favorite childhood memories remains watching and helping my father in the large garden behind our home. My father planted a huge garden with all kinds of vegetables. He did this with patience, hard work and vigilance. He was so diligent and caring in overseeing the growth of these plants and took such pleasure in harvesting the fruits of his labor. While our family would enjoy the bounty of the food that my father grew, we were also able to share the fruits of his labor with others: neighbors and friends.

My father also planted flower seeds, and when they blossomed, we placed these seasonal flowers, like daffodils, roses, gladioli, and chrysanthemums, before the statue of Our Blessed Mother - the Immaculate Conception - on the side lawn. These experiences impressed upon me at a young age that the fruits of one's labor - whether in a garden, in the home caring for loved ones, or in the workplace - are ultimately meant to bring glory to God.

A right relationship with others, with ourselves, and with all other beings is the highest form of praise that we can give to Our Heavenly Father. To show proper love and respect to all people and things as He has made them is to offer the prayer of the Psalmist, "My mouth will speak the praises of the LORD; all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever" (Ps 145:21). According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for His own sake and gives Him glory, quite beyond what He does, but simply because HE IS" (No. 2639).

Praise is at the heart of Pope Francis' most recent encyclical. The title, "Laudato Si,'" is taken from Saint Francis of Assisi's "Canticle of the Sun." In this song, Saint Francis praises God's creative work and design from the celestial bodies to natural resources to the span of a single human life from beginning to end.

As Catholics, we believe that God's existence, as well as some of His attributes, can be known from natural revelation. In other words, the created world and the way in which it works tell us things about Our Maker. We can also understand from the natural world that there is an order, a logos, to how things are designed. We can know and understand what created things are made for and what our relationship to each should be. One of the most fundamental truths which we can recognize is the design for human sexuality and the meaning of marriage. Addressing those who disregard the necessity of the complementarity of sexes for marriage, Holy Father writes, "It is not a healthy attitude which would seek 'to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it'" ("Laudato Si,'" No. 155).

God entrusted man and woman with having "dominion over the earth," meaning that we are to participate in God's creative action, and we are to use and relate to created things well, in a way which respects the ends for which things are made and the dignity proper to them.

The Holy Father elaborates on this theological point in "Laudato Si,'" when he writes,

"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 call us together into universal communion" (" Laudato Si,'" No. 70).

Pope Francis writes about an "integral ecology" in which care for others - particularly the weakest and most vulnerable among us - is linked to care for the natural world. We know that this has been our call from the beginning; we also know that because of original sin, we have, throughout the centuries, failed to live up to this vocation. "Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used" ("Laudato Si,'" No. 104).

In many ways, we have moved from having "dominion" over the earth to acting as if we have "domination" over it. This "anthropocentrism," in which we behave like our own masters, is the theme which undergirds the encyclical. Nothing could be more opposed to a disposition of praise and adoration of God as God than this. Pope Francis writes, "When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves" ("Laudato Si,'" No. 115).

The Holy Father outlines today's many manifestations of our broken relationship with God, others and ourselves in what he calls the "throwaway culture." With regard to human life, he cites the disposability of embryonic life, abortion and the use of contraception as symptoms of an urgent problem, a problem in which there is a growing inequality between the rich and poor and the breakdown of the family, the bedrock of society. With regard to the natural world, the Holy Father notes that the problem of pollution, the lack of access to clean water and the loss of biodiversity are in need of urgent attention. Most profoundly, he illustrates the link between these problems, as the poor and vulnerable are the ones who suffer most when we misuse our resources.

"What kind of world do we want to leave our children?" Pope Francis asks in "Laudato Si.'" My dear brothers and sisters, it is a critical question that we, as a diocesan family, must consider and answer. When I think back to gardening with my own father, picking the flowers and taking them to Our Lady's statue as an offering, I think also of the future that I hope for: a world in which all of our words and actions proclaim the prayer of Saint Francis: "Praised be you, my Lord!"

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015