It is commonly believed that the first encyclicals of a papacy represent a signal of the pastoral vision and priorities of the new pope. Other leaders in the Church, then, as well as the faithful and secular observers look to these documents to see what the holder of the Chair of Peter will emphasize in his apostolic ministry.
Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home), issued five years ago, in May of 2015, was the second encyclical of Pope Francis’ papacy, the first being Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) in 2013.
The encyclical opens with these words: “‘Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore’ —‘Praise be to you, my Lord.’ In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.’”
True to the saint whose name he chose on election, and reflective of his birth on a continent so often exploited (“ravaged,” the Holy Father says) for the mercantile interests of colonial powers and the needs of newly-reemergent nations and economies, Laudato Si’ is an impassioned appeal to care for and protect God’s creation.
Others, far more knowledgeable than I, will offer reflections on the care of creation elsewhere in this issue. My point here is simply to underscore that the Holy Father’s vision of our shared responsibility as stewards of creation is eucharistic.
Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’ paragraph 236:
It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became (human) and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God.
In a Church like ours, with a highly developed sacramental imagination, God is revealed in word and ideas, yes; but also, in created things like bread, wine, and water.
Anthony Schueller, SSS