Bishop Robert W. McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego delivered the opening keynote address at the inaugural “Laudato Si’ and the U.S. Catholic Church” conference, at Creighton University, in Omaha, Nebraska. Here are some highlights of his speech:
Perceiving in the recesses of our soul the magnificence of the world that God has created for the entire human family, we yet allow selfishness, denial, the thirst for control, radical individualism and the rejection of God to forge a culture that progressively destroys the beauty and sustainability of the world which is our common home. And in that contradiction we are estranged from the created order which God bestowed upon the human family as the setting of our pilgrimage on this earth.
Laudato Si’ both unmasks this estrangement and points to the pathway forward for us to move from alienation toward healing and the renewal of the earth. The encyclical is a call to arms for those who would rescue our bruised planet from the forces that deplete and destroy it. But Laudato Si’ is so much more than this. For in its delineation of an integral human ecology, it emphasizes that the illnesses that plague our world on so many levels are interrelated, and that progress in any one dimension requires attending to the wholeness of the human person and the human family just as it attends to the wholeness of our planet earth….
Laudato Si’ is a call to reforge the bonds of solidarity that have been at the core of every advance that we have made as a people. It is a call to recognize the profound economic inequality that cripples us as a society and powers the engines of consumerism and technological recklessness that separate us from our planet, our brothers and sisters in the human family, and most piercingly of all, from the well-being of the generations who will come after us….
It is the estrangement of so many women and men from the recognition that the world is the gift of the Creator that is the primary and fundamental estrangement that endangers the earth. For this estrangement from God leads in turn to the denial that there is a universal destination for material goods because all such goods flow ultimately from the act of God in creation. The estrangement from God the Creator leads to the refusal to recognize that the whole of the human family is one precisely because we share one Father and one destiny. And most dangerously of all, this estrangement from the Creator sets in motion the acquisitive and dominating spirits of the human heart and soul that claim in their untrammeled grasping the right to own and utilize the created order without reference to the grandeur of creation’s origin and its goal….
We in the United States experience with particular starkness the conflict between the technological paradigm and the affective bonds between nature and our humanity reflected in the spirituality of Francis of Assisi. We all experience at moments of our existence overpowering spiritual and moral bonds with nature and with the creation that blesses our world. But in practice those moments are overwhelmed by the technological substructure that underlays our society and draws us to increasingly treat nature in solely manipulative and instrumental ways.Thus we have become estranged from nature, unable to drink in and comprehend and contemplate the awe of God’s creation….
Laudato Si unmasks the reality that particularly here in the United States, we are estranged from the truth about the environment because we are becoming estranged from the very notion of truth itself. The great fear that Pope Benedict, who was a prophet about the environment and a prophet about the debasement of the truth, was that relativism would so corrode contemporary culture that men and women would surrender the very notion that there is truth that can be attained in this world. At this moment in our history as a nation, our political culture is submerged in a morass of conscious and repeated lies that wears down our collective culture of truth-seeking and substitutes for it a counterfeit culture rooted in the conclusion truth itself is only a vague illusion that cannot be realized in a complex world.
Laudato Si’ repudiates this moral and intellectual surrender and affirms unequivocally that the consensus of human inquiry into the environmental degradation of our planet reveals a powerful tide of man-made decline in our climate, our water, our soil and biodiversity. We must put aside our estrangement from the truth to redeem our natural environment, just as we must put aside our estrangement from political truth to redeem our political culture….
The healing of our nation requires a collective conversion from the individualism and selfishness that generate division to the sense of solidarity that can alone build a truly human society. We must reject the words and the sentiments that build walls of rejection and categorization within our society, and we must reject a nationalism that betrays the finest strands of our nation’s history and legacy by defining our country by what we are not rather than what we aspire to be.