III. Ecological conversion [216 – 221]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

216. The rich heritage of Christian spirituality,
the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and
communal experience, has a precious contribution

150 Id., Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 14: AAS 82
(1990), 155.

to make to the renewal of humanity. Here, I
would like to offer Christians a few suggestions
for an ecological spirituality grounded in the convictions
of our faith, since the teachings of the
Gospel have direct consequences for our way of
thinking, feeling and living. More than in ideas
or concepts as such, I am interested in how such
a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate
concern for the protection of our world. A
commitment this lofty cannot be sustained by
doctrine alone, without a spirituality capable of
inspiring us, without an “interior impulse which
encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives
meaning to our individual and communal activity”.
151 Admittedly, Christians have not always appropriated
and developed the spiritual treasures
bestowed by God upon the Church, where the
life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body
or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived
in and with them, in communion with all that
surrounds us.

217. “The external deserts in the world are
growing, because the internal deserts have become
so vast”.152 For this reason, the ecological
crisis is also a summons to profound interior
conversion. It must be said that some committed
and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism

151 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 Nov
2013), 261: AAS 105 (2013), 1124.

152 Benedict XVI, Homily for the Solemn Inauguration of the
Petrine Ministry (24 April 2005): AAS 97 (2005), 710.

and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions
of concern for the environment. Others are
passive; they choose not to change their habits
and thus become inconsistent. So what they all
need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the
effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become
evident in their relationship with the world
around them. Living our vocation to be protectors
of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of
virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect
of our Christian experience.

218. In calling to mind the figure of Saint Francis
of Assisi, we come to realize that a healthy
relationship with creation is one dimension of
overall personal conversion, which entails the
recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures,
and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire
to change. The Australian bishops spoke of
the importance of such conversion for achieving
reconciliation with creation: “To achieve such
reconciliation, we must examine our lives and acknowledge
the ways in which we have harmed
God’s creation through our actions and our failure
to act. We need to experience a conversion,
or change of heart”.153

219. Nevertheless, self-improvement on the
part of individuals will not by itself remedy the
extremely complex situation facing our world to

153 Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, A New
Earth – The Environmental Challenge (2002).

day. Isolated individuals can lose their ability and
freedom to escape the utilitarian mindset, and
end up prey to an unethical consumerism bereft
of social or ecological awareness. Social problems
must be addressed by community networks and
not simply by the sum of individual good deeds.
This task “will make such tremendous demands
of man that he could never achieve it by individual
initiative or even by the united effort of
men bred in an individualistic way. The work of
dominating the world calls for a union of skills
and a unity of achievement that can only grow
from quite a different attitude”.154 The ecological
conversion needed to bring about lasting change
is also a community conversion.

220. This conversion calls for a number of attitudes
which together foster a spirit of generous
care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude
and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world
is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly
to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and
good works: “Do not let your left hand know
what your right hand is doing… and your Father
who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It
also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected
from the rest of creatures, but joined
in a splendid universal communion. As believers,
we do not look at the world from without
but from within, conscious of the bonds with

154 Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 72 (The End
of the Modern World¸ 65-66).

which the Father has linked us to all beings. By
developing our individual, God-given capacities,
an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater
creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s
problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a
living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1).
We do not understand our superiority as a reason
for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but
rather as a different capacity which, in its turn,
entails a serious responsibility stemming from
our faith.

221. Various convictions of our faith, developed
at the beginning of this Encyclical can help us
to enrich the meaning of this conversion. These
include the awareness that each creature reflects
something of God and has a message to convey
to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto
himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately
present to each being, surrounding it with
his affection and penetrating it with his light. Then
too, there is the recognition that God created the
world, writing into it an order and a dynamism
that human beings have no right to ignore. We
read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of
the air that “not one of them is forgotten before
God” (Lk 12:6). How then can we possibly mistreat
them or cause them harm? I ask all Christians
to recognize and to live fully this dimension of
their conversion. May the power and the light of
the grace we have received also be evident in our
relationship to other creatures and to the world
around us. In this way, we will help nurture that
sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint
Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied.

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