Take action, “Praise God” for a world that sings of infinite love: A reflection on Laudate Deum

Take action, “Praise God” for a world that sings of infinite love: A reflection on Laudate Deum

October 12, 2023

Few days after this paper see print, it will be the 10th year anniversary of one of the most devastating disasters recorded in recent history. In November 2013, thousands of our fellow Filipinos lost their lives to the wrath of Typhoon Yolanda. One cannot help but lament today when we try to imagine the heartbreaks of families who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods taken away, and the disruption of life as it once was for entire communities. At a global temperature rise at the time estimated to be at about 0.8°C, Yolanda was a stark illustration of the terrible consequences brought by man’s pollution of the Earth and its atmosphere.

It, too, was already a warning not to allow further warming of our planet, lest we face even worse and unspeakable catastrophes.
But ten years on, have we learned the lessons from Yolanda? Not enough, it appears—and the latest apostolic exhortation of our beloved Pope Francis provides a timely reminder. Released on the occasion of the Feast of St. Francis of Assissi earlier this month, Laudate Deum is addressed ‘to all people of good will’ who, living in the same Earth, together witness its ailing health. ‘Witness’, in fact, does not begin to capture how deeply ingrained our beings are to the state of our Common Home, for “God,” Pope Francis says, “has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement”.

Today, there can be no denial that what we confront is no mere crisis of our climate, but a crisis of the Earth, and a crisis of the human heart. ““Praise God” is the title of this letter”, says the Pope, “For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.” Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened.

Each year, science that is made available to both the ordinary individual and to those who wield political and economic powers becomes clearer than the year before: that there is complex, intensifying, and horrible climate devastation in store for us all for every fraction of an increase in global temperature rise. Each year, it also becomes clearer that it is those that are least responsible and least able to adapt that are most vulnerable to worst climate impacts. Even still, business-as-usual remains the order of the day. As Pope Francis notes, even “with the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.”

Laudate Deum, like the celebrated and most useful guidance provided by the encyclical Laudato Si’, is a cry for societal transformation. Pope Francis opts not to mince words in pointing to the root of the Earth’s current suffering, which is the reckless pursuit of economic growth and profit at the cost of people and nature. He also does not shy away in pointing to solutions that today look us in the eye yet remain barely tapped, noting, for example, that “the necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed. Consequently, whatever is being done risks being seen only as a ploy to distract attention.” Indeed, in our very own country, present and potential progress in tapping clean and affordable energy from renewables is muted by ambitious plans to expand the use of fossil gas, retain coal, and allow the entry of other unreliable and risky technologies.

But Laudate Deum is also an encouragement for people of all faiths to rise from the illusion of helplessness. Once the scale covering our sight has fallen, how can one still pretend to be blind to the realities of our Common Home and its suffering inhabitants? “We must move beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial changes” he says, and put on a brave heart, “…for authentic faith not only gives strength to the human heart, but also transforms life, transfigures our goals and sheds light on our relationship to others and with creation as a whole.” We are asked to remember that “the universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely… there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.” We live in a world that was so lovingly created, and if “the world sings of an infinite Love: how can we fail to care for it?”

It must be pointed out that Pope Francis also issues the most important challenge of not stopping at generating action within the individual level. One must strive to ensure that the duty of taking action and protecting the hope for a livable future is embraced at a societal scale. As he says in a manner that could not be clearer, “the most effective solutions will not come from individual efforts alone, but above all from major political decisions on the national and international level.” One could think of the lesson taught by our Lord Jesus when he, too, walked this Earth in a parable from the gospel of Luke—”From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Brothers and sisters, God has indeed granted those that are in government and in the highest places of society the means and capacity to make sweeping changes happen – changes that can be enough to pull the brakes on an even more catastrophic future. In its latest World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency reveals a finding worth celebrating: it is expected that renewables would play a bigger role in the global energy sector by 2030 than was ever imagined previously. This would not have happened if not for the millions of voices who, for years, have asked that we turn off energy from fossil fuels which hurt our planet. Even still, we are far from meeting the 1.5°C climate goal, and much more action needs to be taken. This becomes extremely crucial as we approach the COP 28 climate talks scheduled toward the end of the year.

In our own country, we can work together to ask for higher ambitions, for a just and full shift to renewables, for haste in moving away from coal and gas, and for an end to destructive activities like mining and reclamation. We can advocate for policies and programs that strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities and critical habitats, and other lasting changes that promote people’s empowerment and sustainability. On this end, the harvest is plentiful—may the laborers not be few!

Dear reader, if you have not yet done so, I encourage you to read this exhortation from cover to cover and allow it to fill your heart with courage. Much more can be said about Laudate Deum, but we may need a couple more pages to discuss the rich guidance it contains. For now, let us continue discerning on it in our daily lives.


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