Mindfulness and Thankfulness: The Ignatian Examen as a Discipline of Care for Our Common Home and One Another

by Katherine R. Tromble, Esq.

shutterstock_223186420.jpg

As Thanksgiving draws near, I find myself thinking about the various people and things for which I am thankful. Identifying the good and being grateful for it keeps me grounded. It keeps me from distorting the bad or wallowing in it. God might not, as Fr. Brian J. Lehane, S.J., suggests, “want us always to be saying ‘thank you’.” [1] But he does want us “to be noticing how much we are loved and cared for by Him and, in turn, respond[ing] by living a life of gratitude.”[2]

A life of gratitude. Isn’t that what Pope Francis lives, models and asks of us as well? It is not surprising that Pope Francis, formed in Ignatian tradition, approaches his ministry with a sense of gratitude. We can see this in how he greets each person who approaches him in his travels, how he seeks out the most vulnerable to remind them that their lives have as much dignity as anyone’s life, and how he has prioritized caring for creation in Laudato Si’: “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”[3]

But in the two years since publication of Laudato Si’, it feels as if the world has hardened toward the earth and its inhabitants. Nativist groups no longer lurk in the shadows, but openly shout their messages of hate and violence. Politicians seem singularly focused on withdrawing healthcare and support from the poorest among us. Wars rage. Nations shut their borders to desperate refugees. Even the climate seems to be flexing its muscle with a series of wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes; many of these events hit the most vulnerable.

But being surrounded by a hardening world does not mean we have to be hard. Now more than ever, the light of Christ is needed. For me, connecting with that light comes most easily when focusing on what I am grateful for each day, using the Ignatian Examen as a way to encounter that gratitude. It’s “a simple life-changing prayer,” as Jim Manney says.[4]

It first asks you to review your day and to discern within it the people and things for which you are grateful. Before your thoughts turn to where you might have strayed, you intentionally identify things that made you happy. It sounds so simple. But too often we fail to notice, really notice, the things that make us happy: the help of a co-worker, a woman walking the largest and smallest dogs I’ve ever seen at the same time, a clear blue sky, or a comforting shoulder in a moment of sorrow.

Calling these things to the top of my mind and saying thank you for them helps remind me just how real Christ’s presence is in my day. What is more important, it helps me be more generous with my actions, maybe offering that shoulder or helping another co-worker the next day. It also grounds me in my faith. I am grateful not for these lovely moments in and of themselves, but because Christ is in them. Christ walks with me every day. Not just with me, though, but with everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable who are suffering most right now. And as His hands and feet on earth, I must also walk with them.

Gratitude is no small thing. It can help us soften and brighten the world.


[1] Brian J. Lehane, S.J., “Attitude of Gratitude: The Examen of Prayer of St. Ignatius,” Partners, March 2011, available at http://www.jesuits-chgdet.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Partners_FA09.Sprituality.pdf.

[2] Id.

[3] Pope Francis, Papal Audience, 3, May 21, 2014, available at http://http/www.news.va/en/news/pope-at-audience-if-we-destroy-creation-it-will-de.

[4] Jim Manney, A Simple Life-Changing Prayer (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2011).

Untying the Knots

by Emilie Bouvier

Minneapolis_Synod_Assembly_2016_005.JPG
© Michele Jokinen

“I… I had no idea what the Doctrine of Discovery was. It’s unbelievable, really, it meant that land could be taken if there were no baptized Christians there.” I was jolted out of a moment of distractedly gazing at the stained glass windows during announcements. It was a Sunday morning in early September, and I was visiting a deep suburban congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that I didn’t know well, but had worked with to coordinate an eco-stewardship project.

There he was, on a blue carpeted footstool at the pulpit microphone, leaning in with a pause: an entirely typical member of the congregation—certainly not the “peace-with-justice-committee” type—unable to hold back the passion welling up about an issue that was entirely new to him. In jolting sentences, clearly still processing, he shared what he was learning with the congregation in what would otherwise be a rather dry report about the Churchwide Assembly. The crack in his voice mid-phrase betrayed the vulnerability he felt at uncovering anguish in a history he claimed as his own. He was expecting just to show up as a delegate for a large-scale church meeting. Little did he know a resolution passed there on Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery would cause a radical shift. Our social statements as church bodies matter. They can be transformational in unnoticed corners where we wouldn’t even anticipate.

I felt much hope listening to this lay member’s reflections, because I saw colonial history as being deeply related to our environmental crisis.

Having spent time at Standing Rock last fall, I was very aware of how pipeline routes in the Midwest exemplify the ways environmental degradation harms those who are already poor and marginalized, the undying chorus to Pope Francis’s plea for greater care for this earth. Oppression of people and exploitation of the land are integrally related, parallel parts of the structural sin we carry in our world today.

As people and institutions of faith, we have often been on the wrong side of history. As a religion that came from the margins, we’ve historically been awfully comfortable in siding with Empire for the sake of safety and economic benefit. It takes slow and careful work to untie these knots, to seek reconciliation with our sisters, brothers, and the land; and ultimately to mend ourselves and our faith. I believe that social statements on the part of faith leaders and church bodies are critical in recognizing these histories—in naming these knots—and empowering people of the church to get to work unbinding their hold on us.

CalvaryLutheran_Cleanup4_ed.jpg
© Emilie Bouvier

I have found Laudato Si’ to be one of the most profound examples of a social statement doing just that: addressing the harm and empowering action. Its reverberations have been far-reaching. When I first spent time with the document, I was moved by such a deep and faithful challenge to business as usual of overconsumption and extraction. I found grounding in Pope Francis’s abiding gratitude that stands counter to commodification and in his unabashed stand with the marginalized whose resources others are decimating. Even more, the authoritative weight of Pope Francis’s words has strengthened faith communities and church leaders well beyond the Catholic Church and invigorated me.

As an environmental justice organizer for a Lutheran bishop (ELCA), I can’t even tell you the number of times after the encyclical’s release in 2015 that I found congregation members or pastors in Lutheran churches excitedly asking me “Have you read the pope’s encyclical yet?” Countless more times I, or Bishop Ann Svennungsen, started a statement to elected officials or community leaders with, “Given Laudato Si’, we’re clearly at a kairos in the religious community’s response to the environment….” The encyclical has marked a turning point for how people of faith, across traditions, have engaged environmental justice in the public sphere. We have stood up to match the tenor the pope set: that we are here, and we have work to do.

What has that work looked like? It has looked like the following:

  • confirmation groups cleaning out and stenciling neighborhood storm drains, in efforts to keep trash out of our rivers and streams
  • members from seven congregations showing up in a packed room downtown to get commitments from mayoral candidates on clean energy and equity
  • running energy audits and incorporating green principles in renovations
  • following in the footsteps of indigenous leader Sharon Day on a “Nibi Walk” (water walk), with each step as a prayer for the healing of the water
  • adult forums and creative worship services that invite congregations to learn, pray, and sing their way into environmental practices
  • writing letters to members of an energy utility board of a rural electric cooperative, advocating to expand clean energy options for members
  • a meet-up at a local watershed district, learning the basics of water stewardship and heartily belting of “Shall We Gather at the River” through rain gardens to the bank of the Mississippi to read scripture and bless the water

This is resounding: the methods are many, but the essential feature is that we find opportunity in our own communities and contexts, always in relationship with our neighbors. It has profoundly impacted how we think about being “church together” in the synod of Lutheran congregations I serve. It falls in line with the sort of “EcoReformation” for which many are calling, as the Lutheran Church celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

It’s at this 500-year moment that we also are seeing a coming together of Lutheran and Catholic judicatories. Last fall, I witnessed Bishop Ann Svennungsen, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, and Bishop Patricia Lull plan a joint worship service in recognition of this milestone anniversary. What’s striking to me is the way that we’re able to come together on social issues, even amid theological differences, to work the common good. In the current political realities, it fills me with hope to see people of faith work ecumenically on issues bound to the heart of our faith—care for the disenfranchised, the immigrant, and the earth. We have an opportunity at hand to imagine a different future together—a world that honors this earth from which “our very bodies are made up… [whose air] we breathe… [and from whose waters we] receive life and refreshment” (Laudato Si’, 2).

For Generations To Come: The Questions That Bind

By Rabbi Jennifer E. Krause

shutterstock_403398985.jpg

 

What are we?

What is the meaning of our lives?

What is our kindness? 

What is our righteousness? 

What is our liberation? 

What is our strength?

In the Jewish liturgical tradition, these are the questions we ask ourselves every morning at prayer.  It is with these questions that we not only begin our days, but the questions by which we shape our lives.

In reading and reflecting upon Pope Francis’s encyclical on integral ecology, Laudato Si’, the passage about what Pope Francis calls “justice between the generations” brought these core questions from my own inherited tradition to mind.  Pope Francis writes:

What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? . . . .What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? (Laudato Si’, 160)

How true that how we choose to answer these questions, whatever their source, becomes in aggregate the signature we leave as individuals during our short time on the earth.  How true all the more so that our answers to these questions as one human family leave an indelible inscription upon the earth in our generation and for all generations.

As Pope Francis asserts, the planet’s present and future health and well-being are inextricably bound up in the lives of each and every person, present and future, who calls it home.  The earth’s dignity and our dignity are connected.  What we see when we take a conscious look at ourselves, at our friends and loved ones, at neighbor and stranger alike; what we see when we look at our communities, our countries, the world, also is reflected in the visage of the planet we share—the planet gifted to us, placed in our hands by our Creator, that we do not own but that we have the ability to nurture or destroy.  The world, and all the inhabitants thereof, rise and fall by how we answer these questions and build lives in accordance with our daily response.

As we read in Laudato Si’, “Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.” Yet, without a deep understanding of the human ecosystem, of how we are connected to and through one another by how we choose to lead our lives in even the smallest of ways, it is within the realm of our choices to be indifferent to the world.  When we forget that our lives matter, that we count, that we are here to make something of our lives and to serve a purpose that transcends the tiny borders of our individual existence, how can we possibly see the big picture of a planet that is counting on us to preserve its existence?

Without a daily commitment to what is truly at stake in the details of how we live our lives—not just for ourselves but for all, we cannot fathom, let alone heed, the clarion call of Creation crying out to us all to be the tender, trusted, proactive, and stolid stewards of the environment that we, the descendants of Adam, were placed on earth to be.

Surely it could be said that we live in a moment in the history of the world in which we have never been more connected or more disconnected. The screens we use to link ourselves to others can be the same screens that become a barrier between ourselves and the world. With myriad devices we can hear the voices of people across oceans and continents, bearing witness to the lives of those we might never otherwise have the chance to meet; and yet far too easily those voices can become little more than background noise as we turn our attention to everything and nothing at all.

Part of that noise is the din of hopelessness and negativity, the sound of too many in need and too much to be healed for us to believe that it is within our power to make a difference.  When we lose our faith in ourselves and what we can do to change the lives of our brothers and sisters for the better, we are all diminished.  When we cede that faith to futility, the planet also pays the price.

Yet somewhere in all of that noise, I must say that in nearly two decades of being a rabbi, of serving Jews of all different backgrounds, ages, movements, and religious practice, never before have I heard more talk of social justice; and, what is most important, never have I seen more engagement in social action.

Never before have I seen more Jewish organizations created for the sole purpose of putting the word and the spirit of Jewish teaching and tradition to work in the world.  Never before have I seen more passionate people, young and old, fan out into their communities to make a difference in all aspects of the human ecosystem.  Be it Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, Bend the Arc, American Jewish World Service, Repair the World, Keshet, or Hazon to name but a few; whether focusing on gender-based violence, immigration, homelessness, food insecurity, poverty, fair labor practices, racial inequality, sustainability, and the environment they demonstrate through the daily unwavering pursuit of justice in all its forms that every positive step we take begins with seeing ourselves in the other—walking with the awareness that every human being is created in the image of G-d, imbued with infinite value, possibility, and unique purpose.

As Pope Francis affirms in Laudato Si’, and as I am heartened to see happening in my own community, when we see our lives, the contours of our kindness, the quality of our integrity, our decisions to redeem or degrade, and the way we use (and when necessary choose not to use) our power and freedom as having a direct and lasting impact on everything and everyone around us, we can do the sacred work of making a healthier planet that thrives and sustains us all.

Jordan Waters: Preservation for Sustainable Living

by Fr. John Predmore, S.J.

John Predmore 1
© John Predmore

When human pride explodes, it destroys and exploits nature. Think of water. Water is something precious and very important. Water gives life; it helps us in everything. But to exploit the minerals, which leads to the contamination of water, then messes up the environment and creation is destroyed! This is just an example. There are many more.

Pope Francis, February 22, 2017

I read this quote from a homily by Pope Francis in which he emphasized our care for the environment. It had an immediate effect upon me as I was visiting the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan during a school break. I previously worked in Jordan as the pastor of the English Language parish for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The World Health Organization ranks Jordan among the lowest in the world for water resource availability per capita, with water scarcity becoming a more menacing challenge as the population doubles and climate changes make precipitation more uncertain and variable. In addition, the desert kingdom hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees and displaced persons, creating an enormous strain on a fragile water infrastructure.

King Abdullah presses on with responsible stewardship as the kingdom uses its gifts to compensate for its deficiencies. The most abundant vital resource is the sun. Under the King’s directives during the past five years, developers and construction companies have been advancing solar energy technologies to produce clean and efficient energy. With long cloudless days, these photocells produce great quantities of energy in the summer and companies are able to apply the excess production toward credits for their energy bills in the colder seasons. Lobbyists are urging the government to create tax deductions for credit incentives if businesses use solar energy, thereby decreasing taxes. Such governmental regulations will spark increased incentives for companies to switch to cleaner energy consumption methods. Additionally, companies are switching from diesel gas to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a low carbon, cleaner alternative source of energy that emits 35 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and costs 12 percent less than oil.

The kingdom has required builders to designate green space within all new construction projects, including exterior building renovations (even for residential apartments); the builder then must get municipality approval for the green space. Vegetation in the desert is sparse; in the city of Amman, it is not uncommon for one walking along a sidewalk to find a tree planted in the middle of the path. The Jordanians do like their trees and bushes and want them planted wherever their growth can be sustainable.

Construction companies extend their good will to residents of the poorer southern parts of the kingdom by building parks in those areas, creating soccer and playing fields, and then planting trees so the fields are shaded from the sun. The Saudis are installing windmills in the barren Arabian desert, and these conserve the desert lifestyle.

When I left Amman for the United States three years ago, I was lamenting the pervasive habit of littering that tarnished the city. Jordanians were always boastful that Amman was the cleanest Arab city, but this littering became a source for shame as they built up their tourism industry. The Amman municipality within the past two years has doubled its efforts in sanitation and trash collection to return the city to a place of pride. The government has removed abandoned cars from sidewalks and parking areas and the residents are caring for their small corners of the city. They are practicing care for their common home and for one another, a commitment to the common good.

John Predmore 2
© John Predmore

Historical and eco-tourism are burgeoning industries that are showcasing Jordan’s natural resources. The marvels of Petra and Wadi Rum attract foreign visitors to the nation, and smaller gems are appearing on the tourism map, like the Dana Reserve and its Biosphere that sustains a fragile but important arid ecosystem with distinctive threatened wildlife, like Nubian Ibexes, Syrian serins, caracals, and lesser kestrels.

In addition, the Dead Sea will soon come back to life. An extensive project of channeling water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea will replenish the rapidly evaporating waters. Cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian governments benefits both nations, and Jordan will get a steady supply of potable water for its residents.

Tourism is drawing attention for sport enthusiasts, some who are able to run the Red to Dead Sea marathon, hang-glide through the mountain terrain, spend a spa weekend at the Ma’in Hot Springs, or wade through the Mujib Dam’s tributaries. Tourism companies like Wild Jordan lead eco-tours and sell products that emphasize Jordan’s new interest in preserving its environment.

The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) is a big player in setting new environmental standards. Two impressive efforts are the restoration of the Al Azraq Oasis and rain production in Ajloun (the forests of Gilead).

Jordanians also plan to dam the springs that have fed Al Azraq, an oasis at the intersection of three deserts in the eastern part of the country. This was the winter home to Lawrence of Arabia before his attack on Ottoman Damascus. The wetlands have been shrinking as they have become the primary source of drinking water for the growing metropolis of Amman. A wide variety of birds stop at the reserve each year to rest during their migration routes between Asia and Africa, and Jordanians have reintroduced water buffaloes to the area. While the restoration project is in its initial stages, it is the first of its kind in Jordan and is a real attempt to reverse a destructive trend.

Cloud seeding that uses ionizing technology has yielded promising results, virtually doubling rainfall levels in 17 days of December 2016. The technology mimics sun ionization and uses no chemicals. Ionized particles are 100 times more electrically attracted to water vapor and they form vapor clusters that eventually become raindrops. The technology is new and it has been successful in Australia and the United Arab Emirates; it could reap tremendous benefits for this water-starved kingdom.

I am certain that few Jordanians have heard of Laudato Si, but the people know that, in a land with few life-sustaining water resources, they are prudent to conserve and judiciously manage their precious natural resources. Jordan’s geography encompasses a fertile East Bank of the Jordan River that flows into the saline-saturated Dead Sea, which does not sustain many living organisms. From the lowest elevations to barren rugged mountains surrounded by vast deserts, the presence of water means life.

Jordanians long have forged a delicate balance between human society and the natural world. Their pragmatism requires them to work with their neighbors for sustainability, which increases stability, security, and peace for the region. Their innovation helps them reduce levels of poverty, especially as they struggle to provide for the influx of war refugees. Their spirit of determination makes them a model for other nations and serves as a reminder that the survival and flourishing of humanity is intricately linked to the preservation of the world’s natural resources.

 

Refugees and Migrants – Are they part of Our Common Good?

By Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, M.S.W., A.C.S.W., Secretary General, International Catholic Migration Commission

23324101485_24e443dab5_z
A group of refugee schoolgirls in Malaysia participating in ICMC’s awareness-raising activities aimed to prevent gender- and sexual-based violence. © ICMC/WEI Chien Tee

In my global advocacy activities, both as the secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and as part-time attaché at the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, I have been amazed at the positive response of diplomats and international nongovernmental organization (NGO) advocates to Pope Francis’s landmark encyclical, Laudato Si’[1]. Many who would pass by me at the United Nations when they noticed my Roman collar now greet me warmly and tell me, “I like your Pope and his encyclical!” Despite my joy upon receiving these positive echoes, I am concerned that too many still see the encyclical as focusing on climate change alone (as vital and important as that issue might be) and do not discern the deeper implications of Pope Francis’s call for “integral human ecology,” which requires a profound discernment of our relationship with God, with nature, and with ourselves and each other.

In the sixth chapter of the encyclical, the Holy Father issued a rather curious challenge – that is, to promote “civic and political love”: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it (220)…. Social love is the key to authentic development (231).” What a contrast between Pope Francis’s admonition and the demeaning political rhetoric that dominated the recent referendum vote in the United Kingdom and the political campaigns in the United States and Europe!

The bitter debate about admission of migrants and refugees into Western countries is literally the most glaring proof of the crying need to promote civil and political love in our world. In February 2016, while standing at the border between Mexico and the United States, Pope Francis described the current situation in this manner: “We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones. The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families.”[2]

On January 15, 2017, the Catholic Church observes the 103rd World Day of Migrants and Refugees. For this occasion, Pope Francis has decided to focus on “Minor migrants, vulnerable and voiceless,”[3] who often arrive unaccompanied in their destination countries, “are unable to make their own voices heard” and “easily become victims of grave violations of human rights.” In his message for this day, the Holy Father insists on the need to strike a balance between “the right of states to control migratory movement and to protect the common good of the nation … with the duty to resolve and regularize the situation of child migrants.” He reminds us that the migration phenomenon is part of salvation history, which speaks of the providential work of God in history and in the human community, with a view to universal communion.” Echoing dominant themes of Catholic social teaching, and specifically of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls for far-sighted perspectives, “capable of offering adequate programmes for areas struck by the worst injustice and instability, in order that access to authentic development can be guaranteed for all,” and reminds us that “this development should promote the good of boys and girls, who are humanity’s hope.”

My own organization, the ICMC, received a mandate from Pope Pius XII, “…to unite and organize existing Catholic associations and committees, and to promote, reinforce and coordinate their projects and activities in behalf of migrants and refugees.[4]” I recently visited the ICMC Refugee Service Centre in Istanbul, Turkey; our staff there are deeply engaged in assisting families to apply for resettlement in the United States. These refugees cannot return home, and their current host country is unable to offer them permanent residence, employment, and long-term safety.

SG Visit 3.JPG
Monsignor Vitillo visits with refugee children at the ICMC Refugee Service Centre in Istanbul, Turkey. © ICMC

During my visit, I spent time with a group of children who were receiving instruction on life in America. As most children, they were enthusiastic and curious – they grinned from ear to ear and spoke of what they planned to do in their new homes. Each had colored a map of the United States, placed his or her destination state in a special color and spoke with confidence about heading to better and happier lives. But behind their smiling faces, I noticed pain and trauma in their eyes. They had witnessed terrible atrocities; several had lost their loved ones. I am sure that they were experiencing much anxiety and concern about how safe they would be as they boarded an airplane heading for parts of the world that would be very unfamiliar to them. What impressed me most about these children, however, was their sense of hope – they could imagine a better life for themselves and their families despite the many challenges they had experienced so early in life. They, like the Child Jesus, could still imagine the world described by the prophet Isaiah, where “… the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat. The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them (Is. 11:6).”

For me, the time with these child refugees was a real lesson in a way to promote “civic and political love” that seems to be so lacking in our contemporary society and living proof that refugees and migrants are part of our common good!


[1] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 24 May 2015, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/ documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.

[2] Idem, Apostolic Journey to Mexico, Homily during Mass at Ciudad Juarez Fairgrounds, 17 February 2016, available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160217_omelia-messico-ciudad-jaurez.html.

[3] Idem, Message for The World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2017 (“Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless”), Vatican City, released 8 September 2016, available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/ messag[15 January 2017], es/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20160908_world-migrants-day-2017.html.

[4] Pope Pius XII, Exsul Familia Nazarethana, 1952, available at http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius12/ p12exsul.htm.

Reactions to Laudato Si

By The Rev. Peter J. Henriot, S.J., Ph.D., with Lester A. Myers, Ph.D., J.D., CPA, CFF, CGMA

shutterstock_495553627.jpg

How do I react to the monumental encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si? Well, thinking about how to respond to that question brought to my mind three things I should be very clear about from the start:

  1. I am a Jesuit, not a Franciscan.
  1. I’ve lived in Africa for the past three decades, not in the United States.
  1. I’m a political scientist, not an ecological scientist.

First of all, I’m not much of a “brother sun,” “sister moon,” “mother earth,” sort of person. To be honest, I probably had never read the Canticle of Francis of Assisi until it began appearing everywhere on the Internet after Pope Francis released his encyclical. My formation in Jesuit spirituality seemed a lot less “poetic” than the lyrical expressions of the poor man of Assisi. But recently I’ve been challenged to go deeper into the Ignatian view of our created order. A Spanish Jesuit ecologist, José Antonio García, S.J., opened for me the environmentalist reading (and praying!) of the “Foundation” and the “Contemplation” of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.

Simply expressed, the created world deeply reveals God’s loving presence and calls for a respect and cooperation in every aspect of my life. While our Jesuit Pope does not cite Ignatius in Laudato Si, he–and I–cannot help but be influenced by what is really a radical Ignatian ecological spirituality.

Second, my understanding of today’s environmental crisis is influenced by my experience of climate change in Africa in recent years. While some prominent people might deny climate change, no one who lives in the midst of the environmental disasters of drought and flood such as I have experienced in Malawi in recent years can be blind to such a reality.

Paragraphs 25 and 26 of Laudato Si especially speak of the consequences of climate change to the livelihoods of the poor in the so-called “developing countries.” Pope Francis notes that the means of subsistence of these poor “are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.” And these are the realities most threatened by the climate change affecting the people I know in Africa.

Third, by training I look at the responses that Laudato Si recommends primarily in political terms – and I’m pleased that Pope Francis is very much aware of the need for political action and the relationship between such action and our joint and collective economic decisions about consumption, savings, and investment. He repeatedly emphasizes that the changes that will really respect our common home require actions by citizens that will especially influence economic decisions: “Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment” (179).

Certainly this political emphasis is urgently needed in these days of transition of leadership in the United States. A president who denies the reality of climate change and promises to withdraw from international agreements to promote economic growth is a threat to cumulative gains, however modest these have been. As Pope Francis notes, there is an overwhelming body of scientific research supporting the conclusions that (1) climate change is real and (2) human activity is its principal cause. To suggest otherwise, e.g, through the Orwellian substitution of “climate contrarian” for “climate change denier,” is to practice a modern form of misology. Likewise, to discount the credibility of scientific researchers and the legitimacy of their work by imputing political or financial bias to them is intellectually dishonest in the face of the enormous political and financial interests that have everything to gain through such denials.

However, even the political realm is only part of the story and Catholic social tradition recognizes a pluralism of institutions: multiple centers of gravity for reinforcing salutary policies and practices. It is telling that corporations have joined civil society organizations, universities, faith-influenced organizations, and even the military and intelligence communities to hold fast to the scientific conclusions about climate change and to support global collaboration through public and private institutions to mitigate and try to reverse this threat.

When Pope Francis asks such hard questions through the lenses of the Canticle, chemistry, and cosmology, he brings us to an encounter with both sobering truths and venerable tools of Catholic social tradition for engaging with them. This is very much in the spirit of Pope Pius XI’s call for subsidiarity in the wake of the Great Depression, Pope John XXIII’s invocation of socialization after the Cuban missile crisis, and John Paul II’s exhortation to solidarity in building a global millennial consciousness in the wake of the Cold War. Pope Francis, in voicing an ethic of care for our common home and one another in Laudato Si, enlarges our ethical vision, our willingness to see afresh the challenging signs of the times, and our resolve to think differently and to act differently to build a future worthy of our principles and our promise.