In Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, the new environmental encyclical by Pope Francis, the Holy Father speaks in part to the need for good stewardship of the earth, as well as the current generations obligation to the next:
“The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us…”(LS 159)
This concept of “Intergenerational solidarity”, the responsibility to preserve what has been received for those not yet born, immediately struck me, but not in the manner it was intended.
Looking back at the last fifty years since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council we are sadly able to see the damage wrought by two generations of churchmen who have often demonstrated little respect for the gift they received, let alone their obligation to future generations.
To more clearly make my point, I would ask you to read the above paragraph from Laudato Si again, this time with the emphasis taken off of the planet, and instead focused on the Church, and her saving mission to promulgate the faith :
“The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The
global economicpost-conciliar ecclesial crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us…Once we start to think about the kind of worldfaith we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the worldfaith is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the worldfaith has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way…Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the worldfaith we have received also belongs to those who will follow us…”
In the United States alone we can objectively declare that the preservation of the faith, taking what was received and then sharing it with those who follow, has been the real environmental disaster of the last fifty years. As Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reports:
- Weekly Mass attendance has declined from 55% in 1965 to 24% in 2014
- Total priests in the U.S. decreased from 58,632 in 1965 to 38,275 in 2014
- While parish affiliated Catholics increased during this time from 46.3m to 66.6m…
- Those indetifying as former Catholic adults has increased from 7.5m in 1975 to 28.9m in 2014
- Finally, a 2008 CARA survey found that over 40 percent of Catholics questioned view the Eucharist as only a symbol of Jesus
Let me be clear: none of this is meant to dismiss what the Holy Father has presented to the Church in Laudato Si. While I have read excerpts from it, listened to analysis of it, and read others opinions about it, I have yet to read the entire encyclical myself.
My point is simply this: before the U.S. bishops rush off to find new and exciting ways to incorporate this Eco-encyclical into the life of the Church, possibly they could first look to recover what the Vatican II generation failed to preserve. Is it asking too much for our bishops to be good stewards of the Church first? Shouldn’t the priority be more on saving souls and less on saving trees?
The simple fact is this: a generation of the faithful (bishops, priests and laity) were given a faith that filled pews, rectories, convents and confessionals. A generation of Catholics were given a liturgy that had organically developed over 2000 years, largely unchanged for 1400 years in the Roman Rite, one replete with an aura of the sacred and beautiful sanctuaries that lifted our eyes and our hearts heavenward. This same generation was given Catholic schools that were Catholic, staffed by religious sisters and brothers, who taught the Catholic faith to Catholic children.
As the CARA data confirms, the ecclesial environmental degradation of the last fifty years has been staggering. Truth, beauty and goodness were replaced with ambiguity, minimalism and indifferentism. We have become, as Dietrich Von Hildebrand declared decades ago, a “devastated vineyard.”
Before we look to heal “Mother Earth”, shouldn’t we first look to heal Holy Mother Church?
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.