Homily By Fr Kieran Cronin ofm at the Mass following the Transitus at the Seven Joys Fraternity Clonoe Co. Tyrone – 3 October 2016

Homily on St Francis and the Encyclical Laudato Si of Pope Francis – Clonoe, October 3, 2016.
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Straight from the outset of this papal letter on caring for our common home, we find the introduction of a Franciscan vision of creation, which is meant to guide our conduct in daily life. This is the first papal encyclical that is focused primarily on environmental issues and has caused some controversy, especially when Pope Francis makes scientific claims about issues like climate change and global warming. Some feel that the pope should stick to matters of faith and religious doctrine instead.
The encyclical is quite long, over a hundred pages, with some difficult passages involving technical language, but I want to focus attention just on the introduction, which is simple and straightforward and which introduces the spirituality of creation in the life of St Francis. Hopefully, if you read these initial reflections, it may whet your appetite to continue reading the rest of this challenging document.
Pope Francis begins, commenting on the words of the Canticle of Creatures from St Francis, which gives the title of the Encyclical:
St Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
We should note two important points being made here. Firstly, that the created world in which we live is not made up of things that we can use, but is to be understood in a personal way, like having a sister or a mother. You don’t share life with a thing as you do with a sister, and things do not embrace us like a mother does.
Secondly, our common home is not only a loving sister and mother, but a beautiful mother and sister. So there is a double value in the created world that is the basis of our love and respect – beauty and kinship. And these values lead St Francis to the praise of God.
Praise be to you, My Lord, through our sister, mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Now the Pope warns us that this sister:
Cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.
The Holy Father then makes a strong pronouncement which must warm the heart of every Franciscan:
I believe that St Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology, lived out joyfully and authentically.
What does the pope mean here by “integral ecology”? Please don’t be put off by the technical term. The Pope is referring here to the need to incorporate caring for creation into the traditional social teaching of the Church, which tended to centre on human interests alone. So the pope is claiming that Saint Francis was hundreds of years ahead of his time in recognising the call to care for vulnerable creatures as well as vulnerable people. As he puts it:
He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.
To understand this point we need to see that the word “ecology” refers to our relationship with our environment, but that this in turn includes our human environment, especially society. The overall picture of creation is of God’s family, extending beyond humanity to animals, plants and the earth itself. And how difficult this is to accept when humans already suffer from various forms of prejudice against one another as seen in the different forms of discrimination – racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and so on.
The pope is speaking out against centuries of cultural history emphasising the superiority of humans, especially of educated Western Europeans, over the rest of creation. There has been too strong an emphasis on the value of conscious creatures as made in God’s image, and ignoring the way in which the rest of creation reflects God’s beauty and glory.
Although Pope Francis has many things to say about what we need to do to show greater respect for our common home, the most important message of this letter, I think, is the challenge to people to change their attitudes towards creation. Only the proper attitudes will lead to proper action. So the Pope puts the attitudes of St Francis before us as our model:
Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the Sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all creatures into praise.
St Francis fell in love with God’s creation and all of his conduct followed from that simple fact. Who would want to abuse the person they have fallen in love with? Who would want to use a loved one and then throw him or her away in the manner of what the pope calls today’s “throwaway culture”?
Again the pope speaks to us:
If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.
In this encyclical Pope Francis also presents the poverty of St Francis in a new light. He tells us that:
The poverty and austerity of St Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical – a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
In the past we most likely understood the value of poverty in terms of sharing with others, an avoidance of hoarding and possessiveness. Certainly that idea is present in the life of St Francis. Love is totally opposed to possessiveness. But in the Pope’s encyclical we see another aspect of the need for a simple lifestyle respectful of the earth. This is contained in the idea already mentioned of our throwaway culture. Often we can buy things we don’t really need, clothes that go out of fashion or which we tire of. We may be encouraged to recycle these, going to a charity shop, for instance. This may be a good thing, but it may also be a cover for simply buying more things that we don’t really need. And the cycle of buying and throwing away continues. St Francis, needless to say, possessed nothing and he never threw away a habit he wore if it could be patched.
There is an adage used by preachers which warns us to love people and use things, rather than use people and love things. But the Pope’s letter suggests a revision of this distinction, saying that we must love people and things in the proper way once they are seen as coming from the hands of a loving God.
Richard Rohr tells the story from his days as a friar novice how he was turned off by the stories he read about St Francis weeping. His novice master simply said to him that when he matured he would understand that there is a lot to cry about in this world. When Francis was asked why he wept he answered, “Because love is not loved”. His sadness lay in the fact that so many people fail to respond to God’s love. Surely a part of that failure is the neglect and abuse of God’s beautiful creation, the sister and mother we take for granted or worse, harm.
When giving instructions to his friars about the content of preaching St Francis stressed the importance of speaking about virtues and vices. In the light of this encyclical we should note that the key virtues and vices of humans are directly related to the two themes of treating creation as family and conserving its beauty. The central virtues of faith, hope and love which are directed towards God are then expressed in the four cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, prudence and courage. But now these moral virtues must extend to the whole of creation, not just to human beings. We must act justly towards all our fellow creatures, listening to the cry of the earth as well as the cry of the poor. Temperance involves more than regulating our eating and drinking but also exercising self-control and discipline in our use of natural resources such as water and reducing our carbon footprint by walking more and taking public transport rather than driving all the time. We must be prudent in the sense of developing a practical wisdom which leads us to understand the ways we abuse creation and how to counteract this trend. And we need courage to stand up to the powerful forces, including governments and multinationals who stand to lose a lot of money if the Pope’s warnings are taken seriously and remedial action taken.
Franciscans tend to have very mixed feelings about their patron saint. We love him for his inspiration but we fear his radicalism. For centuries his views on caring for our common home have been largely ignored, until in recent times his life and teaching have been rediscovered as a major force in leading Christians and non-Christians alike to a new conversion of attitude. Will we continue in practice to treat God’s creation as if we were its Lords and Masters or will we embrace the good news that all creatures are beautiful members of God’s family?
Kieran Cronin ofm
Vigil of Feast of St Francis, 2016.

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