Laudate Deum: Is there a future for our hope?

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Eight years after the publication of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ prophetic voice on the serious environmental problem returns. More than a social problem, for Francis it is an issue that profoundly touches human identity in its relationships, as well as the concrete survival of humanity in this world; an issue that concerns not a distant future, but a present in which we are concretely suffering the consequences of a crisis. Laudate Deum, the new apostolic exhortation, is rather short (only 73 paragraphs) and has a pragmatic-pastoral character, without getting lost in lofty reflections, but touching concretely on reality.

Francis realizes that despite the many authoritative voices that have addressed the issue in recent years, unfortunately, the necessary steps have not been taken to stem the worsening situation and to bring about the necessary change in mentality and paradigm. Even with so many efforts to address the misinformation and obviousness of the evidence, there are still so many disjointed narratives and “fake news” circulating to support or minimize the problem and the worsening consequences of global warming.

In this short article, we will limit ourselves for now to presenting the papal reflection in a very synthetic way, with the aim of initiating future dialogues. We will try to present the main points we have learned from reading the apostolic exhortation and, in the end, offer a very brief critical commentary.

MAIN ELEMENTS

Irreversible damage?

Rather than a pessimistic or optimistic reading of the current phase of the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves, Francis favors a mostly realistic analysis (nos. 5-19). Despite the various phenomena of misinformation that are still widespread at various social levels, including the Church, the effects of the environmental crisis are clearly felt with a force never before experienced.

Thus, we realize that much of the damage already caused by human action can no longer be repaired in the short term. The acidification of the waters of the oceans, the increase in their temperature and volume, the melting of glaciers, more intense periods of drought and irregularity of precipitation, etc., are clear examples of this damage that will take not decades but centuries to recover.

Francis’ realism on the subject urges a focused and rational awareness that truly calls for responsibility for the future of Creation. It is therefore a balanced reading that takes into account the complexity of the damage already caused and the possible practical actions to be taken, keeping in mind the urgency dictated by a possible point of no return, already very close in many respects.

The technocratic paradigm

In our view, the ethical-moral crux of the apostolic exhortation lies in the awareness of what Francis had already clearly named and conceptualized in Laudato Si’ namely the technocratic paradigm that is still present and growing. This nefarious ideology, which is utilitarian and distorts reality, imposes a worldview that generates exploitation and discard, especially for the most fragile and abandoned realities. It is based on a false vision that idolizes a certain understanding of technology and the market from which, in turn, springs a form of exercise of power that generates death.

The Pope therefore urges us to rethink the exercise of power in order to combat this vicious ideological stance, recovering in its place healthy and balanced forms of relationship in which human beings recognize themselves in their fundamental correlation of communion with every created reality. Rethinking the dynamics of the use of human power requires healthy reflection on its real limits, as well as on human identity itself and its responsibility for the future of its species and the world.

DISARTICULATION OF GLOBAL POLITICS

In Laudate Deum, Francis also touches on the current problem of the crisis of global political articulation. Despite the current framework of globalization, recent economic and pandemic crises, instead of leading to new forms of multilateral action among governments, have ended up with the emergence of latent unilateral nationalist and ultranationalist movements and positions extremely marked by visions of harmful individualism. This has produced an environment that makes the action of existing multinational bodies of institutional dialogue ineffective or impossible.

What is needed, therefore, is an urgent rethinking of the multilaterality of global politics, that is, an effective and committed dialogue among the various global political forces, which also enhances the action of the various bodies present in civil society, in order to build the common good, applying fundamental principles such as solidarity among peoples and subsidiarity, always keeping in mind the inalienable character of human dignity.

In a very concrete way, this also highlights the practical ineffectiveness of the many global climate conferences. Although there is the goodwill of many active men, women and organizations, but the political will and concrete action are lacking, the agreements made will remain unimplemented, like mere letters on a paper. Regarding COP28, to be held in Dubai, Francis writes:

If there is sincere interest in making COP28 a historic event that honours and ennobles us as  human beings, then one can only hope for binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions: that they be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored. This, in order to achieve the beginning of a new process marked by three requirements: that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all. That is not what has happened so far, and only a process of this sort can enable international politics to recover its credibility, since only in this concrete manner will it be possible to reduce significantly carbon dioxide levels and to prevent even greater evils over time. (LD, 59)

A spirituality that rethinks humanity

Francis ends his apostolic exhortation by proposing a vision of a spirituality of communion, which starts from an understanding of human identity as a relationship. The legacy we have received, based on the valuing and centrality of the human being in Creation, is today provoked to rediscover itself in a situated way. There is no longer room for a total anthropocentric reading, but rather a certain healthy weakening of this human centrality is needed, opening up to communion with the great symphony of creation, of which God is the conductor.

For “as part of the universe… all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect”. This is not a product of our own will; its origin lies elsewhere, in the depths of our being, since “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement”. [43] Let us stop thinking, then, of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and limitless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a humbler but more fruitful way. (LD, 67-68)

Finally, “Praise God” is the title of this letter. For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies. (LD, 73)

A BRIEF CONCLUDING COMMENT

A brief but profound exhortation. Not because it is composed of lofty theological-academic quotations, but because of the sensitivity of a pastor who understands that he is responsible not only for his direct flock, but for the life and richness of a Creation received as a Gift from the One who created everything and recognized its intrinsic goodness. Francis once again embodies what has been defined as the mission of the Church in Gaudium et Spes, No. 1, and which should never be forgotten: “The joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the people of today, of the poor above all and of all who suffer, are also the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of Christ’s disciples, and there is nothing genuinely human that does not find an echo in their hearts” (GS, 1).

Awareness and action on the environmental issue are urgent. We are suffering more and more intensely from the damage caused by a utilitarian relationship with creation, especially in the last century. The most recent Copernicus study revealed that September 2023 was the hottest month on record.

The update of Laudato Si’ proposed by Francis in the eighth year of its publication invites every human being of goodwill to engage deeply in the construction of the common good, a reality that has lost its grip on the human heart in recent times. From a social perspective, the disintegration of politics we are experiencing and the need to rethink human identity in the face of so many real challenges, as well as our actions in the world and our exercise of power in extended relationships, is highlighted.

The writer’s heart as a Redemptorist moral theologian hopes that Laudate Deum will be the beginning of reflections and, above all, a provocation to practical action for the common good that involves each of us. As Francis has often provoked the Redemptorist world, so he now does so with all humanity, inviting us to “get our hands dirty” to build a future of life for all. This, so that we can respond together: yes, there is a future for our hope.

Fr. Maikel Dalbem, CSsR.