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Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Bishop’s Reflection: A forerunner to a Francis encyclical?

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His Excellency Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, penned a pastoral letter that could very well be the forerunner of a papal encyclical on ecology.

Have you read it? I was given a copy for an upcoming review of another eco-publication (about a certain pontiff—more on that later). Having read Bishop Rey’s letter, I can’t keep silent. And anyone who reads it won’t either—or at least they shouldn’t.

The 2012 letter Peut-on etre Catho et Ecolo? Lettre sur l' ecologie ("Can One Be Catholic and Green? A Letter on Ecology") was re-published in 2013 by the Acton Institute as Catholicism, Ecology, and the Environment: A Bishop’s Reflection. No matter what title you give it, it lays a formidable and rather complete foundation for the Catholic engagement of ecology.

Let me restate that: The letter lays a formidable and rather complete foundation for the Catholic engagement of ecology. 

(On a personal note, a book that I have been developing on the Catholic perspective of ecology now seems unnecessary. Who needs my take on the subject when it is so very well examined by a successor to the apostles?)

Here are some of the letter’s highlights. (And if you have others after reading it, share them in the comments below.)

On the Christian need to engage ecological issues
We can only regret that Christians do not participate more actively in [ecological] questions by bringing the specific insights of the gospel into the discussion. Christians cannot let themselves be indifferent; confronted with the threat of irreversible deterioration of creation, they will not be able to escape a serious examination of conscience.
The environment is a field to which the social doctrine of the Church, whose first principle is the centrality and the dignity of the human person, has been applied extensively.

 On human life 
One of the causes of the current human ecological disorder is the widespread anti-life mentality that has spawned one of the greatest genocides in all of history. It would be vain to insist on one hand we would for the respect of the environment while on the other hand we would not respect the right to life.

Sin and ecological destruction 
We are faced with a moral crises: that is to say a crisis of human choice and human action. Hence, the root of the problem resides in man’s heart rather than in strictly economic or industrial concerns.
The ecological crisis is born in the heart of man and is only the outside extension of this internal tragedy.

Hope in the Eucharist 
In the Eucharist, we find the possibility of a renewed understanding of the created world. The Eucharist allows us to uncover the basis of an integral human ecology; here we find the antidote to radical individualism and collectivism. The Eucharist allows us to find Jesus’ face in every person, most especially the poorest. It also enables us to welcome in creation a gift from God and to thank him continuously for it.
There is of course much more. This includes a recognition of the place of ecology in New Evangelization; an important critique of progressive thought (especially as it is seen through representatives like Jacques Yves Cousteau, who suggested that to save the world we must "eliminate" 350,000 people a day); and a wonderful overview of the place of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as a means to holiness—which is another way of saying a means to tending well the created world that nurtures human life.

The letter is also quite aware that Bl. John Paul II and (especially) Benedict XVI (whom he quotes extensively) has much to teach us about the ecological problems that we face and the divine assistance that we are offered.

If you’re not familiar with Bishop Rey’s pastoral letter on ecology, please do not let these excerpts be your only encounter with it. Read it for yourself. Share it in abundance. Contemplate it and pray over it. It is a wonderful text—and a vital one.

In fact, I’d wager that sometime in the near future you may find that it resonates profoundly with an eco-encyclical administered by the current Bishop of Rome.


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