Monday, August 31, 2015

Laudato Si and the Spirit of Opus Dei: The Call to Jesus Christ Through the Small Things of Ordinary Life

After feeling that “Laudato Si” is a sustained reflection on recovering the consciousness of creation (and obviously with it the recovery of the sense of God, the Creator and Father), one arrives at Chapter Six and “Ecological Education and Spirituality.” In the first part of the chapter, the pope remarks: “Here, I would echo that courageous challenge[1]:  “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

            Pace Vatican II and the kerygmatic call to holiness for the layman in the middle of the world, and a developing praxis of seeking Christ in ordinary life, the normal layman in the pew and the mother of the young boy still find their religious imagination trumped by the canonical religious state of leaving the world and taking  vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I dare to say that even the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not hold steady without ambiguity  to this “development” that has been so copiously and clearly stated in places such as Lumen Gentium #31, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity and Christifideles Laici. [2]

            What Francis is doing is putting the vocation to sanctity in the world by daily, ordinary normal engagement with it on center stage. His flex point is not the usual religious starting point, but rather, if you don’t do it, you won’t have a world left. He is proposing  a spirituality. He is taking the Christological anthropology of “self-gift” in doing whatever one does, wherever one is, and proposing that it is precisely in the middle of the world that it must be lived, and this precisely because there is a problem in the middle of the world which is the devastation of what we are doing with it and to it. The large context is the secular environment, and he is proposing that everyone in the world has the responsibility to make the gift of self in living out the small things of ordinary life there. This has always been Opus Dei:  “You must understand now more clearly that God is calling you to serve him in and from the ordinary material and secular activities of human life. He waits for us everyday, in the laboratory, in the operating theater, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in  the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well; there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.”[3]

            But this is what we mean by “environment.” Francis writes: Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity” (Laudato Si, #211).

[1] “Earth Charter, The Hague (June 29, 2000)”
[2] I am thinking of CCC ##915 and 916 that refers to the life of separation from the world with the vows of poverty (having nothing), chastity (celibacy) and obedience where the language is “’more intimate’ consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God… propose to follow Christ more nearly….” Such language echoes the hegemony of the canonically religious vocation and trumps the development that  has taken place in the Church in the last 50 years.

[3] St. Josemaria Escriva, “Passionately Loving the World,” Conversations… Scepter, October 8, 1967,  

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