Pope Francis addressed a business expo group on Saturday by video. He held papers in his hands from which it appears he was reading as he spoke. That indicates that this talk was not a spontaneous outburst, but rather a reasoned prepared presentation. I must say that I read what he had spoken, and then reread it and then came back to it again. I really want to understand what he tries to teach, but I find it so difficult from the perspective of a Catholic. The link I have provided is from The Wanderer and I give them much credit for taking what I read and turning it into something much more clear. So, I suppose I was just too dense yesterday and I appreciate their recitation of his points: that politicians and policy makers need to take the needs of people into account as a priority and not as emergency measures where economics are concerned and not just sit back and say that markets are autonomous, that politicians need to make economic policies based upon the dignity of persons and the common good, and that economic policies must involve respect for the Earth and not rapine use and abuse of the resources and environment. So what’s the problem with all of that? Nothing and I agree that these are all important. However, if you read the second link, you’ll be scratching your head as I did or you’ll move on to something else. I could almost see those who sat through this being confused, politely applauding when he finished and then quickly forgetting just about anything he told them a few minutes before. I couldn’t.
I understood his basic points amidst the unclear sentences, after I wrestled with what I had read. But I also was struck by something about his discussion about the Earth in that he says that the Earth is first, a sister, then a mother, a mother who does not forgive. He made the point that we are not to destroy the natural world but respect it as we use it for our needs, about which I agree with him, as most reasonable people do. Yet, he insists repeatedly that the Earth is the mother of us all.
Finally, we should perceive ourselves as “custodians and not masters of the earth”. The Pope, recalled his words to the FAO, “God always forgives insults and abuse, God always forgives. Sometimes men forgive. The earth never forgives”. We must “cherish sister earth, mother earth, to so as not to meet with destruction”. “We are called not to lose sight of the origin and purpose of the goods of the earth, so as to realize a just world, as the social doctrine of the Church says. The earth is entrusted to us so it may be a mother to us, capable of sustaining each one of us. Once, I heard a beautiful thing: the Earth is not a legacy that we have received from our parents rather it is on loan to us from our children, so that we safeguard it, nurture it and carry it forward for them. The earth is generous will never leave those who custody it lacking. The earth, which is the mother for all, demands our respect and non-violence or worse the arrogance the masters. We have to pass it on to our children improved, guarded, because it was a loan that they have given to us. This attitude of safeguarding the earth is not an exclusive commitment of Christians, it concerns everyone. I entrust to you what I said during the Mass at the ‘beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome:’ I would like to ask, all those who occupy positions of responsibility in the economic, political or social sphere, to all men and women of good will, to be stewards of creation, God’s plan is inscribed in nature, custodians of each other, the environment; do not let the signs of destruction and death accompany the journey of this world! But we also have to safeguard ourselves! […] We should not be afraid of kindness, even tenderness’. Custody the earth not only with kindness, but also with tenderness”.
“Here, then – he concluded – are the three attitudes that I offer to help overcome the temptations of sophistry, of nominalism, of those who try to do something but not concretely. Starting with priorities: the dignity of the person; being men and women witnesses of charity; do not be afraid to safeguard earth who is mother of all”.
Earth is the mother of us all, (I don’t know how sister got in there), and the mother of us all never forgives and will destroy us if we are not good stewards. How do we understand this as Catholics? As sentimental environmentalists, it all sounds “nice” and fits with the pantheist beliefs of many environmentalists, but does not make coherent sense to Catholics. The Blessed Mother is our Mother. Has that changed? He exhorts us to improve the earth. How can we improve on God’s creation? God tells us to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth for our needs. Pope Francis says we’re not to be masters that subdue the earth but only custodians. Cannot we be both? Who’s right? God or Pope Francis?
I appreciate the effort to guide economic policy makers by a pope. The Church has that obligation to teach and guide and to ensure that God is part of the discussion and the solutions. But did this help anyone?
Finally, I would take his words about sophistry and nominalism and his suggestions in the last paragraph quoted above and tell him that this should also apply to his own cardinals as they seek to undermine the Faith in these coming months and in the October Synod, except that I would hope someone would clarify to him that the Blessed Mother is our Mother, not the earth.