“‘Praise God’ is the title of this letter. For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.” These are the final words of Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum. I gasped when I read this warning for the first time. It felt harsh compared to the ending of Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the environment from just eight years prior.
And yet, he’s right. As I consider the news from the last few weeks, the senseless deaths of innocent lives in Israel and Palestine, the escalating conflict in Nicaragua, and, as Pope Francis mentions, “the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model” that got us to this point in the climate crisis, I see, again and again, humans trying to take God’s place.
This week’s readings, then, provide balm for a weary soul:
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples.”
“The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face.”
“My God will fully supply whatever you need.”
These lines remind humanity that, although some of us believe ourselves all-powerful, we are dependent on God. So dependent that even our mere existence on this planet was beyond our control.
The words in Philippians 4:12 are instructive (and very Ignatian in their invocation of the idea of “indifference”). “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance.” For many of us in the Western world, we have lost this sense of balance and freedom. Our lives are filled with physical belongings that provide a false sense of security and comfort—an abundance that is making us and all of creation sick.
Pope Francis’ final line of Laudate Deum is a call to a humbler way of living. Humus is the Latin word for earth (a rich and nutrient-filled soil) and is also the root word for human and humility, which means one who is grounded or near to the earth. Humans are called to remember that we are part of nature and that “human life is incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures. For as part of the universe… all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect” (Laudate Deum, 67).
My prayer is that we can remember our place in the universal family and act as Jesus did by treating all of creation with “affectionate and humble respect” For, to quote Pope Francis one last time, “Everything is connected” and “No one is saved alone” (19).
- How might you be called to live in “affectionate and humble respect” with creation?
- What is your emotional or intellectual response to Pope Francis’ words, “when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies”?
Brenna Davis is director of Education for Justice and environmental initiatives for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. She graduated from Boston College in 2010 and served in Cleveland as a Jesuit Volunteer. She previously taught theology, coached cross country, and served as main office coordinator at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School. During her time there she was the self-proclaimed assistant to the director of facilities in all sustainability initiatives on campus. She is a certified spiritual director and a Cuyahoga County Master Recycler.