Tonight our graduation ceremony began with a reflection on the encyclical on the environment by Pope Francis, Laudato Si. Inspired by the hymn in praise of creation by his namesake St Francis of Assisi the Pope called all of us to care for what he has called, “our common home”.
As graduands of Guilford Young College you look now to your future, tonight you have been invited by the reflection to carry into your future a care for the earth as our common home. I am sure it is a message that you readily embrace.
The Pope spoke eloquently about the beauty of creation and the threats to the future of the natural environment.
His forthrightness on this subject has been warmly received. In speaking about care for the natural environment the Pope also included consideration of what he calls “human ecology”. Pope Francis asks us to also involve our own bodies in ecological thought. We human beings do not stand outside the environment for we are intimately part of it.
He makes a very interesting comment: “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation”. (LS #155) Pope Francis invites us to embrace who we are as men and women as a gift. Just as this letter is critical of attitudes that allow people to plunder the environment, so the Pope encourages us to adopt attitudes of respect for our bodies.
The Pope proposes that to be good stewards of the world around us we must begin by being good stewards of our own selves. He speaks of accepting our own body, caring for it and accepting its full meaning. Pope Francis goes on to say, “Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different”. As the world around is a wonderful gift of God to us, so too is our human nature. Masculinity and femininity are gifts to be prized. They are God’s gift to us and part of his wise plan.
He comments that a human ecology invites us to discover that we are part of creation and that there is a natural moral law that characterizes human life. Discovering and living this natural law he says “is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment”.
A year ago, in November 2014, Pope Francis commented at a symposium on the complementary nature of masculinity and femininity: “The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology”.
We come to discover that the natural world is governed by all sorts of laws, for example, in spring buds shoot forth on barren branches. We are witnessing this wonder of new life all around us at the present time. Somehow nature knows when it is spring. Nature springs into new fruitfulness and beauty. Similarly as human beings we have inner laws of nature. One of those is the distinctiveness of masculinity and femininity.
Pope Francis has invited us to look at the masterful way in which created reality works around us. As we see the beauty of creation reflecting the wonderful providence of God, we are inspired to work towards its appropriate preservation.
He also invites us to look at ourselves as human beings. He invites us to see the beauty of our human nature. We are being invited to respect ourselves and embrace God’s provident plan for human life. As nature needs to be freed to be itself and flourish, so too we human beings need to know our nature and be ourselves.
It is on this basis that Pope Francis has said on a number of occasions that marriage between a man and a woman is deeply embedded in the wisdom of creation and the human ecology. He said in his talk last year to the conference on the complementary nature of man and woman: “Do not fall into the trap of being swayed by political notion. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history. We can’t think of conservative or progressive notions. Family is a family. It can’t be qualified by ideological notions. Family is per se. It is a strength per se”.
Pope Francis has invited us all to contemplate the beauty of nature and to praise God for what he has created. He invites us also to see the beauty of human life and to praise God for what he has created.
My dear graduands, as you go forth from Guilford Young College be the generation that works to preserve the integrity of the natural environment and be the generation who strives to preserve the human ecology.
God’s provision for us is wise and beautiful.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, October 29, 2015