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Deacon-structing Laudato Si (well, part of it)

June 21, 2015
Arbeit Macht Frei
Laudato Si is so complete and so radical that it will take years for us to unpack it fully. There is a lot there, but one of the themes that has most moved me (and this was not surprising) is encapsulated by this statement from the introduction: "The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickenss evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life." (LS 2)
For Pope Francis (and for the Catholic Church), there is no difference between the sins committed to the natural ecology and the sins committed to the human ecology. In chapter two, Laudato Si explains that the Creation narratives of Genesis teach that we are called to three fundamental relationships: The relationship between us and God; between us and other humans and the relationship between us and the rest of creation. All three are equal and interconnected (LS 66). When we harm one, we harm the other; when we elevate one, we elevate the other. We wonder why we are in such an ecological crisis? Well, we're also in a human crisis.
There is a reason however, why today I am particularly thinking about the sins we commit against each other; against other human beings. You see, as I write this, I am in Poland and yesterday I spent the whole day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Between 1940 and 1945, 1,300,000 people were sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau. Of these, 1,100,000 were Jews. 150,000 were Poles. 23,000 were Roma (Gypsies). 15,000 were Soviet Prisoners of War and 25,000 were of other ethnic groups. Of these, 1,100,000 died at Auschwitz/Birkenau. 90% of them were Jews. The people who arrived at the camp generally did not know what was awaiting them. They truly believed that things would get better. The first thing they saw at the entrance to Auschwitz was the sign over the gate: "Arbeit Macht Frei," work sets you free. Many believed it. However, witness accounts say that the commandant would greet them saying: "This is a concentration camp- there is no way out other than through the chimney of the crematorium."
I don't think I need to go into the details of what these people sufferered. I don't need to explain the horrors that went on inside these compounds. Having spent the day there, I can only wonder how humans can be so cruel - how we are capable of such inhummanity. The rest of creation does not have the capacity for evil. That alone is reserved for human beings.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis explains that according to the Bible, the three vital relationships have been broken. This rupture is sin. "The rupture between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations" (LS 6). He says that this is a far cry from what God originally intended and so "sin is manifested in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature" (LS 6). I don't need to tell you that there is evil in the world and we don't need to go to Auschwitz to figure it out; still, it's easy to live our lives ignoring that "creation is groaning" (Rom 8).
According to the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, Poland, "behind the women's camp in Birkenau the Nazis built gas chamber and crematorium II. Today only the ruins are visible because before leaving the camp the S.S. blew up the building. About 2,000 people would enter the gas chamber at once, to be suffocated by Cyclon B. They would be standing crushed against one another, holding hands in the cramp of death, so that the commandos had trouble to pull them apart."
At the same time I learned the story of Zofia Pohorecka, who "at the age of 20 years was imprisoned in the camp in Birkenau. After the war she lived in Oswiecim and she often met up with young German people who were visiting. She spoke to them about her survival and said that it was due to the care her friends gave her when she was seriously ill even though they knew they were endangering their own lives. She testified that friendship, love, and tender care make you strong."  One need only hear the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe to know that these acts were not uncommon at Auschwitz.
Despite the difficulty of walking through the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I was reminded that in the midst of all the misery and human degradation one could also witness acts of goodness. This is always the case. But in the reality of the extermination camps, these acts were heroic. We must learn to never give consent to evil and sin. There is Polish Way of the Cross that says that "there is no place where we can be exempted from the obligation to oppose evil and help those who suffer." Always. You don't think that one person doing a small act can make a difference? Think again.
I was reminded of what my friend, Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich told me once. He said that God alone has the ability to begin; but He has given us the ability to begin again. We must never forget that. Laudato Si says that "God can also bring out good out of the evil we have done... the Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge" (LS 80). This is very apparent in nature; many of us have also witnessed it among humans. I guess that is the message of The Cross.
Laudato Si is not just about nature; we recognise the dignity of all creation and human beings have a unique place. We cannot profess a respect for the natural ecology if we do not accept the dignity of all human life. The two are one and the same.
St. Francis wrote the beautiful Canticle of Creation, which gives Pope Francis' encyclical its name. But today, walking in the footsteps of the millions killed needlessly at Auschwitz I was reminded of another prayer by St. Francis:
"O Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
To sow love where there is hatred,
Forgiveness where there is injustice,
Truth where there is doubt,
Hope where there is despair,
Light where there is darkness,
Joy where there is sadness.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in forgiving that we are forgiven,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."
May this be our prayer always for all creation.
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For all complete "deacon-struction" of Laudato Sii, tune in to my conversation with Sr. Damien Marie Savino, on the SLHour.
And don't forget to tune in for the second episode of Creation, The Human Person, where we address the question of the unique place of human beings in Creation. It will premiere on Tuesday, June 23 at 8:30pm ET.

pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

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