I haven’t started Pope Francis’ Laudato Si yet, because it’s really (really!) long and I’m at work and I’m also significantly intimidated (and a teeny-tiny bit scared by it) and besides, our Little League playoffs will be starting any moment now, so that’ll take up a whole lot of my emotional energy over the next few days.
Since I’m mostly watching the reactions of various trustworthy people around the InterWebs — especially my friend Tom McDonald, who’s been tweeting his thoughts as he works his way through the document — I have little of my own to add at this stage. But I wanted to pass along this morning’s advice from a very dear (and very wise) friend who I have known for many years, and who is a far better reader and interpreter (and person) than I am.
You should be more interested in what he’s saying that what I will (eventually) say, anyway. Trust me.
I am in the middle of reading the encyclical myself, so I can’t offer you anything detailed yet, but one thought weighs on me as I read.
Everyone who finds the encyclical troubling should start by listing the “I like it” elements and the “This bothers me” elements. Then he should do one more thing: write down at least ONE element in the encyclical that genuinely challenges him, that is, one way in which he feels this encyclical may change his mind on something he has thought for a long time.
The Spirit leads the Church through weak human beings, and yet we have to be on the lookout for God in the midst of it all. As Fulton Sheen once remarked, Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on an ass. If we don’t make a real effort to find ONE element in an encyclical that changes our attitude or conviction, then we have failed as readers.
Maybe a Catholic makes a real effort and can’t find it. If the effort was real, that’s not a failure: God asks for our ears, not for our accomplishments. But I would be surprised–shocked, even–if most readers could not find at least ONE element in this present document that falls neither in the “I like” or the “I don’t like” columns, but in the column titled, “This hurts in a good way.”
Sobering. And important.
A document that we see as doing nothing but confirming (or contradicting) what we already believe is not a teaching document. Not really.
We all instinctively recognize that our responses to a work such as this one say a great deal both about the work itself and about its author. Far less often (but just as instructively, in many cases) do we recognize what our responses to a work say about us. And that might be the most important lesson of all.