What? Did I just recommend spending some of your scarce free time reading an encyclical? Well, yes. As much as I understand the rolling eyes, stifled yawns, and sarcastic wisecracks – my own favorite response to appeals for religion -- this encyclical is well worth your time.
First of all, it’s addressed to us, all of us. “faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. . . In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” (paragraph 3)
Second, it’s fairly short (my edition runs to 148 pages) – well organized (six chapters, 36 subchapters, and a total of 246 numbered paragraphs, each with a succinct and pithy subtitle), and accessible. The language is simple and direct and the tone is inviting and even optimistic:
“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. . . . Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. (paragraph 13)
In conclusion, let me add two of my own reactions to the text so you can see if they match with yours. I was accustomed to hearing and thinking that Francis I is some kind of “outlier” as popes and Catholic leaders go. He’s been called a communist, criticized for being soft on homosexuality and divorce, and accused of not defending or even attacking Catholic tradition. So I was surprised to see the frequent and approving citations in this encyclical of previous encyclicals penned by Benedict XVI, John Paul II and Paul VI, not to mention the numerous references to statements on the environment issued by Catholic bishops all around the globe, from Paraguay to Australia, Germany, Asia, and the United States. As radical as Francis may seem, his positions on the environment are firmly rooted in both ancient (St. Francis, the New Testament) and recent Catholic thought.
At the same time, however, Laudato si’ is striking for its openness to and call for dialogue, not only within the Church and among religious believers, but between religions and non-believers and, more important, between and among all the various ways of learning about and being in the world. Religious thought and belief, according to Francis, must dialogue with the sciences, economics, anthropology and so on, and all of these disciplines must be open to learning from the humanities: poetry and the arts, the human expressions and appreciations of beauty. One example of the many that could be mentioned: the titles of the five subsections of chapter five on Lines of Approach and Action:
I. DIALOGUE ON THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
II. DIALOGUE FOR NEW NATIONAL AND LOCAL POLICIES
III. DIALOGUE AND TRANSPARENCY IN DECISION-MAKING
IV. POLITICS AND ECONOMY IN DIALOGUE FOR HUMAN FULFILMENT
V. RELIGIONS IN DIALOGUE WITH SCIENCE
This fall Francis will be coming to the U.S. The best way for Americans to prepare for his visit and to evaluate the response he gets from American political and extra-political leaders is to read Laudato si’.