Who is my brother or sister?

Posted in: Comment
Date posted: 22 June 2015

Revd Alex Mabbs, Operation Noah board member, reflects on the papal encyclical on the environment.pope francis encylical

Is that butterfly, struggling to survive because its normal source of food is no longer flowering at the right time in its life-cycle, my brother or sister? What about that Congolese woman crossing the Mediterranean in a fishing boat? It seems to me that this kind of question is at the heart of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si’.

He refers to St Francis and his ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ in which the saint praises God through brother Sun, sister Moon, brother fire, sister water and so on. St Francis refused to ‘turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled’ (Para 11). He saw God reflected in all that exists, but the Pope says that, ‘because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right’ (Para 33).

The Pope calls us to an ecological conversion that is also a community conversion. He says, ‘It is we human beings above all who need to change’ (Para 202) and calls us to set out on the long path of renewal, building real community that encompasses human relations with non-human creatures as well as our relations with each other. Pope Francis says, ‘A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ (Para 49).

There’s a balance we need to discover in which we acknowledge our place as creatures of the Creator while acknowledging our special place in creation and our power for good and harm. The world is broken through human power being wielded to serve greed and self-interest. We divide ourselves off from other human beings and from the non-human creation in order to commodify other living beings and use them. We need – I need – conversion so that I can re-connect with other humans and non-human creatures and be a brother to them.

It is indeed a long path, and time is not on our side. The Pope sets out not only thoughts about economic and political change but also this challenge to personal renewal and I think there will be joy along the path that will flow from the personal to the communal journey. He says, ‘The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast.’ I don’t want a desert inside me or outside me – I want to live in a world in which all life can flourish. I want springs of water in the dry places and for the desert to spring to life. Francis (of Rome or of Assisi – it may not make a difference) urges that we begin with gratitude for God’s gift of creation as our common home, and that we imitate God’s generosity. This practice of love in ‘small gestures of mutual care’ may build awareness of the bonds we share with all others and strengthen a universal communion, which will be further strengthened by putting into place larger social structures of care. Learning to be happy with little is a way of living life to the full.

I want to live in a world where there is no exploitation or oppression, where every being, including my brother the butterfly and my sister the refugee, can live life to the full. While they don’t, neither will I, and the more I grasp and grab, the less anyone will have. May God help me change my ways and walk the long path of renewal towards a renewed and healed creation – a universal communion of peace and abundant life.

Revd Alex Mabbs

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