"Tilling refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while keeping means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature."
There are many statements in Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si" (Praise be to you, O Lord!) that are key to the implications of the Holy Father's second encyclical letter. The theme of the mutuality of the humankind-earth relationship is a primary one. The world of nature serves humankind in so many ways. The pope reminds us to be profoundly grateful for that service, and to remember that we humans are called also to serve the earth, particularly by doing all that we can to preserve it from further destruction.
Pope Francis never tires of calling the worldwide Catholic community to reach out to the poor with the embrace of God's own mercy and compassion. In "Laudato Si," he begs us to widen that embrace to include the Earth herself, which, "burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor."
Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis draws extensively upon the ecological teaching of his predecessors, especially that of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.
Pope Emeritus Benedict is called the "Green Pope" because he directed that solar panels be installed on the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican, and planted a forest to counteract the carbon emissions of the Vatican City State. St. John Paul II called us to "ecological conversion," a transformation of mind and heart regarding our indifference toward the earth with all of its problems ... many of which we humans have caused.
The Holy Father is already being criticized for including a lot of science in his encyclical, especially regarding climate change and global warming. And there is a lot of science. While the pope consulted with renowned scientists and other experts in preparing to write his encyclical, he acknowledges that there are other scientific analyses that lead to different opinions and conclusions than those articulated in his letter.
The important thing to remember in this regard is that the pope, while making it clear that care and protection of the natural world is a moral imperative, is in no way claiming any personal expertise in science. Nor are his scientific conclusions meant as authoritative magisterial teachings.
His stated intention is to invite and inspire dialogue, conversation and even debate that would raise the consciousness and stimulate the consciences of all of us to recognize what is in fact happening to our natural world, God's good creation, and, as St. Francis declares, our sister. And to decide to do something to protect this world, our common home, and God's wondrous gift to us who are called to be stewards of God's creation.
A final note: While you should not expect much attention to this fact in the secular commentary on "Laudato Si," it is significant, and not surprising, that Pope Francis points out that natural ecology cannot be separated from human ecology, and that authentic care for the environment is incompatible with abortion.
May we make the concluding words of "Laudato Si" our own:
"God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of Your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live. The poor and the Earth are crying out. O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life, to prepare for a better future, for the coming of your kingdom of justice, peace, love and beauty."
Peace to you! Amen! Read "Laudato Si!"