June 29, 2015

Lives lived with "small gestures of mutual care" and rooted in a spirituality that discovers God in all things can bring forth the goodness in others that will lead to better stewardship of our common earthly home, says Pope Francis.

In the final chapter of his encyclical Laudato Si', Care for Our Common Home, the pope says better laws alone will not change people's conduct, even when those laws are effectively enforced.

"Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment," he said.

The sixth chapter of the encyclical focuses on Ecological Education and Spirituality.

Pope Francis noted that a market economy can lead to an increase in greed and to compulsive consumerism. "Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction."

However, no economic or political system can completely suppress human openness to "what is good, true and beautiful," he said. As well, each person has a God-given ability to respond to God's grace at work in his or her heart.

While it is difficult to break old habits and develop new ones, people are capable of making "a selfless ecological commitment" by cultivating a virtuous lifestyle, he said.

"A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power."

Indeed, if people do not develop humility, they are prone to harm both society and the environment. Happiness, he said, can be found in limiting one's desires.

"Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little.

"It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack."

The ability to stop and admire something beautiful, the pope said, enables one to appreciate the value of creation and to avoid treating it as an object to be abused.

Pope Francis said some committed Christians tend to ridicule concern for the environment while others are passive or indifferent to ecological issues. Such people need an ecological conversion "whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them."

The sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is used by God to mediate supernatural life to people, he said.

"It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. . . . Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love."

The Trinity itself has left a mark on all creation, the pope continued. St. Francis of Assisi taught that each creature bears in itself a Trinitarian structure.

It is through a developed spirituality, more than by knowing doctrine, that human beings can rise above themselves and develop "a more passionate concern for the protection of our world."