When I was a child, some 60 years ago, I felt the world heavily unjust. Born poor, and competitive, I misunderstood my roles, and was mostly angry. I had not yet discovered the brilliance in praise, the strength in teams, and how mercy and generosity work in our world.
When I was 16, I met a surrogate father, Mr. Charles Plummer, who asked me to read Marcus Aurelius and his 12-book Meditations. I spent three years studying that text in relationship to the New and Old Testaments, then in relation to the Judaic traditions of our fathers, and then with the books that my mother had kept at home, and knew I needed to know —namely, the St. James version of the Bible.
When Aurelius helped me see how small I was, and that my family was the first circle of protection for me, then my neighborhood, then further protection and value in my competitive realms in sports and work; and then when he taught me to laugh at myself in praising the Logos, things became more controllable. Some of my rage and anger lessened, and I could focus on working to improve the life around me.
Of course, this is where St. Francis began, too, improving the life around him, and this is where his namesake, Pope Francis, builds from. That is part of the miracle in the Pope’s 200-plus passages in Laudato Si’.
In addressing poverty and the wealth of nature, in addressing science and its usefulness, and in questioning our current responses to the threats of pollution and climate change, our Pope Francis is tackling something larger than the former Francis’s wolf of Gubbio. I say this because our Francis is facing the whole world now, not just a few Italian hills, manageable by foot, and shared over time with the help of special folks we have come to call Sister Clare and Friar Bonaventure. I love not St. Francis less, in saying this, but these natural problems more.
Today, in the science of climate change, and in the issue of world markets, and the rampant consumerism, we face an increasingly urgent crossroads. It is the industrial cultural equivalent to walking up the hills of Assisi, but every day. The only messages that can last in this predicament, I predict, are phrased as learning to “do more with less” and learning to “do more with teams.”
This is the most procedurally and practically consistent way to answer the call of our Pope, and of the many scientists behind the Paris Accord.
Here is the good news: The Paris Accord is a major turning point in history, equivalent, in my mind, to the brilliance of our Pope. If there is such a thing as natural supernaturalism (as my Ph.D. mentor, M. H. Abrams, shows as real in social history), then I think the Paris Accord answers both our needs for teams and innovation, and our needs for competitive frugality. Every five years, the Paris Accord will readjust our expectations in relationship to environmental, social, and governance matters. There is a magic in that kind of humility and its collective view of what I call “social response capitalism.” These are concepts not unheard of in Catholic social tradition.
But today, these concepts can outlast and be heard anew in a fashion deeper than politics, media, and keeping up with the Joneses. There is something sacred that happens when a team extends our individual needs, and there is something sacred and something satisfying when we learn: “Doing more with less is success in the 21st century.” This is a mantra, not a prayer, a practical way to frame the objectives of his reflections on poverty and climate change.
Now that I am much older, I see a web of relationships in nature, science, and corporate behavior. This is the reality of living in our century. I have lessened my rage, and increased my faith. You might say I have “arrived,” however slowly, to something St. Francis knew from the start. Answers are available, every day.
I hope these reflections help, and sing some praise and ground a framework as we march forward in a carbon- and capital-constrained world.