Another Christmas! How the years fly by! This special day in 2015 has taken on more of a global meaning for me because of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’.” If I had to sum up the Holy Father’s encyclical in one sentence, the sentence would be: “Everything is connected.”
That statement is the prism through which I am contemplating and celebrating Christmas this year. The birth of Jesus changes everything. It both challenges us and comforts us. It makes all persons brothers and sisters, loved and redeemed by God.
Christmas calls our attention to the dignity and importance of every person. It reminds us of how much everyone is loved by God. This Christmas, I am especially grateful to Pope Francis for the gift that he has been to the Church and to the world. His encyclical calls us to broaden and deepen our consciences. The Holy Father’s letter is calling us to see that nature is God’s gift to us and our gratitude is shown by how we care for that gift. Care of creation is a serious obligation if we claim to be followers of Christ.
On this, Pope Francis writes the following:
“Our openness to others, each of whom is a ‘thou’ capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility, as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the ‘Thou’ of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into stifling immanence.” (No. 119, p. 81)
I love the way Pope Francis ties together our relationship with one another to our relationship with God; and our relationship with God and one another to our relationship with all of creation. To look deeply into the mystery of the human person is to see the face of our neighbors and also the face of God, in whose image all of us have been created.
The Holy Father stresses our social obligations toward our brothers and sisters and toward the rest of creation in the light of the common good – a very important social principle, which unfortunately, seems to have been forgotten by many. Pope Francis writes the following:
“Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is ‘the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” (No. 156, p. 104)
The follower of Christ can never be thinking only of his or her situation in the world to the exclusion of others. The meaning of Christmas has tied us all together. Concern for the common good must be part of a Christian’s spirituality. The attitude summed up in the statement: “I am only concerned about my welfare and my relationship with God and completely uninterested in the material and spiritual welfare of others,” should never be an option for the follower of Christ.
No one of us can solve all the problems in the world, but each of us can do something. Since reading “Laudato Si,’” I have been thinking about what I can do besides writing about the encyclical. Pope Francis writes the following:
“In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. This option entails recognizing the implications of the universal destination of the world’s goods …it demands before all else an appreciation of the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers. We need only look around us to see that, today, this option is in fact an ethical imperative essential for effectively attaining the common good.” (No. 158, p. 105)
Pope Francis’ expression regarding “the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers” really speaks to me. I think that our Christian faith ought to shed light on all of our experience. In our society we, through various media, receive many different images of the poor. Pope Francis reminds us that as believers we should be very aware of the immense dignity of the poor. The poor have immense dignity because they are persons and they have immense dignity because of Jesus dying for them.
Whatever other images we might have of the poor, what Pope Francis tells us is the bottom line.