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Jesuit, scholar offer simple advice for approaching ‘Laudato Si’’

September 11, 2015
Christina Gray

The associate pastor of St. Ignatius Parish offered advice both practical and prayerful to Catholics approaching Pope Francis’ six-chapter, 184-page encyclical during a public lecture on the document’s invitations on Sept. 3.

The subtitle of “Laudato Si’” is “Our Care for our Common Home.”

“First, read it in its entirety –very few Catholics have,” Jesuit Father John Coleman told the audience of over 300 that packed Xavier Hall to hear scholar Mary Evelyn Tucker speak on what the pope calls “integral ecology.”

“This encyclical is like rain for parched land, for desert souls,” said Tucker, a leading voice in the developing field of religion and ecology.

For the pope, integral ecology concerns a spiritual revision of the relationship between the human being and the natural world. He points to St. Francis as a model.

Father Coleman, a former professor of social values at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and the author or editor of more than 17 books, said that those who read only portions or summaries of the pope’s letter will deny themselves the beauty of the pope’s full vision, intellectual authority and language.

“Everything he writes is poetic, but in very accessible language, he said. “It all hangs together.”

A full digest of the document will help readers respond to misinterpretations, including impressions that the letter is only about climate change, he said.

Tucker, co-founder of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology, called the encyclical “poetic, scientific, spiritual and ecologically sophisticated.”

“This encyclical is like rain for parched land, for desert souls,” said Tucker, who said the encyclical satisfies a human thirst for connection with creation and the creator.

Father Coleman also suggested praying the encyclical and practicing thanksgiving.

“I tell people to pray the encyclical, because it can create a profound ecological conversion,” he said. “Pray it also because its very title comes from the famous prayer of St. Francis.”

Spend time cultivating a contemplative lifestyle cherishing each thing as a gift from God, he said.

Finally, he said, act. “The pope reminds us that we need good habits, not just more information,” he said.

Avoiding plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, recycling, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transportation or carpooling, planting trees and turning off lights can add up to a sea change.

These acts may not bring about the global changes needed in the long term, he said, but “they help us change our habits so that we see the world and our relation to it differently.”

In a question-and-answer period following the lecture, one person asked what the church was doing to help parish priests support the encyclical.

Father Coleman and Tucker acknowledged that most priests are largely unprepared to cover the ground Pope Francis did in the encyclical, and that education – and time – will help.

“A Pew Study showed that slightly more Catholics knew about the encyclical than the general public, but only 23 percent said they heard anything about it in their parishes,” said Father Coleman.

Event co-sponsor Interfaith Power and Light said it provides downloadable homilies for clergy of all denominations so that they make comfortably begin talking to their flocks about the encyclical.

Father Coleman also suggested that with the Feast of St. Francis falling on a Sunday this year, pastors have a natural opportunity to begin the “deep dialogue” that the pope is encouraging.

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