Arts and Culture

The Value of Creatures

Second in a series

RE-READING POPE Francis’ great encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” in order to write this series of columns is a labor of love. I find the pope’s writing both beautiful and inspiring.

Because of the length of the encyclical, it took me several hours to read. When I recommend it to others, I mention that the letter is long, but important. Early on, Pope Francis reveals his appreciation of God’s creation. He writes the following:

“It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right..” (No. 33, p. 26)

Pope Francis’ vision – and it is a magnificent vision – includes every creature brought into existence by God. It is as though God is sending us a word or a message through those beings. Everything that God creates resembles God in some way. Each being is one, true, good and beautiful. Philosophers call these the transcendentals. They characterize every being from cockroaches to angels. God cannot create anything that does not in some way imitate God.

Pope Francis sees the beauty of God’s creation. He sees deeply into the goodness of creation and is profoundly saddened by what we are doing to our planet. One of the great insights of contemporary thought is that to be a person is to be relational. We can decide how we will relate, but not whether we will relate. God has made us relational beings.

Pope Francis is trying to expand our vision and deepen our sense that we are called to relate – not only to other human persons and to God, but also to all beings on our planet. In doing so, the pope is trying to expand and deepen our consciences. The definition of conscience that I use in philosophy courses at St. John’s University is the following: A conscience is the habitual way that a human consciousness judges in moral matters.

A conscience is a habit. It is not easy to change. We tend to make the same moral judgments for many years. Though a conscience should be deepening and broadening, it can become set, settled and even static. The Holy Father is trying to give us a truly global conscience that sees we are responsible, not just for ourselves and our neighbors, but also for the material universe.

Pope Francis points out that the Book of Genesis is symbolic and narrative language contains profound teachings about three fundamental relationships, namely our relationships with God, neighbor and the earth. He writes the following:

“Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbor, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all those relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered.” (p. 51)

Pope Francis points out that there is “a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” (p. 51)

God’s creatures, all of them, are like messages to us from God. Each one can speak to us of God and how we relate to them can help us see not only more deeply into them, but also more deeply into ourselves. All creatures are so connected that how we relate to others either causes us to grow or decline.

God’s creatures are precious gifts to us from God. The proper response to a gift is gratitude. We are called, not just to articulate the words “Thank you,” but to live in such a way that our very life is a “Thank you.” To be able to live that way is another gift from God.


Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).