- Pope Francis' Global Spirituality:Mercy as Foundation for an Integral Theology
"There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself."1
"Without mercy, without God's forgiveness, the world would not exist; it could not exist."2Pope Francis
In a recent article, Paul Younger provides the following synopsis of Pope Francis' latest encyclical letter:
Chapter one reviews the multifaceted challenges of anthropogenic environmental degradation … The second chapter proposes a theological framework for analyzing the issues, drawing predominantly on biblical, patristic, conciliar and papal sources … The third chapter examines the disordered tendencies in individuals and society that give rise to ecological degradation. Chapter four explores many facets of what an integral ecology might look like, with environmental, economic, social, and cultural dimensions … The final two chapters set out some parameters for action, both at the level of policy-making and at the level of individual lifestyles.3
While accurate, this summary may incite readers of Laudato Si' (On Care for Our Common Home) to think that spiritual theology and formation only pertain to the final practical section of the encyclical and, therefore, have no determining influence on the structure and contents of its previous parts.
Such an assumption, however, is seriously challenged by the fact that Pope Francis opens Laudato Si' with an explicit reference to the life and teaching of Saint Francis of Assisi. The words of the bishop of Rome are quite revealing: "I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically … He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature, and with himself … To him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection."4 In these few sentences, Pope Francis states what he conceives to be an ecological vision able [End Page 64] to foster a sustainable interaction of humankind with the whole of creation and enable humankind to offer a creative response to the current ecological crisis. Moreover, he retrieves this vision from the heart of Christian tradition, finding it fully embodied eight hundred years ago in the person and life of Saint Francis. The successful overcoming of the prevailing attitude, which incites human beings to act as "masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters" of nature can be overcome only in and by the renewal of a profound sense of awe and wonder before the amazing gift of creation. Pope Francis argues that the renewed awareness of our creatureliness will incite us to live and act as brothers and sisters of all creatures, that is, to display restraint and respect toward others, and this precisely because natural beings are endowed with the dignity of creature of God.
I. integral ecology as ecological spirituality
The following reflection will attempt to demonstrate that Pope Francis' theology of creation profoundly alters the traditional understanding and practice of ecological theology. What Pope Francis proposes is an integral theology embodied in and lived out as a global spirituality centered on the reality and effective power of divine mercy, poured out in the Eucharist. This brief exposition of the spiritual theology undergirding Laudato Si' will demand the retrieval of the "missionary option" operative in Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) and of the understanding of Christian faith and discipleship articulated in Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). Pedro Walpole rightfully emphasized the central importance of spiritual formation in and for the Pope's proposed solution to the current ecological crisis. He thus argues that authentic engagement with the text of Laudato Si' should lead its readers to "grow spiritually so as to express [their] concern, act with environmental justice and seek reconciliation with the pain of the land."5 Genuine concern for the environment stems from the realization that nature, and the earth in particular, are creations of God in and to which we are profoundly integrated and related. Concern for the environment supposes a communion with nature whereby humankind acknowledges and reforms its disrespectful, destructive behavior towards its fellow creatures.
The challenge set before the whole human community...