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Franciscan Minute
By Fr. David B. Couturier, O.F.M. Cap.
he publication of Laudato Sii, the Pope's encycli-
cal on the environment, unites two holy men
separated by 800 years but who share a name
(Francis) and a common vision of a world built on
communion, not competition, and a planet protected
in beauty and sustained in abundance for generations
to come.
By framing his thoughts on the environment in St.
Francis' spirituality, Pope Francis attempts a revolution
of contemporary attitudes back to seeing nature as cre-
ation and not just as "matter" and "stuff." (I have writ-
ten recently on Millennials and a "Franciscan Theology
of Stuff.")
We, in the modern world, live with a prejudice for
seeing the world around us solely or largely in material
terms. Nature, after the Enlightenment, quickly became
just another commodity on the open market to be used
and abused, bought and sold, depleted for as much
profit as we can extract from it, without regard for its
deeper meaning and purposes.
Pope Francis is recognizing the scientific debates about
climate change, but he is speaking about so much
more. He is getting behind those debates and asking
questions about our fundamental relationship to the
earth and, in fact, to one another and to God as Cre-
ator. He is providing a holistic approach to the questions
of climate change and the care of the planet.
It is a question that St. Francis addressed 800 years
ago. He lived in a time of incredible greed and amazing
violence. People in his time were being sacrificed in
bloody, never-ending battles for economic supremacy.
St. Francis knew this scheme because he and his father
were very much part and parcel of this economic ven-
ture that sacrificed people for profit. After his conver-
sion, however, St. Francis introduced people to a new
relationship to the environment. He began to build a
fraternal relationship with all of creation.
When St. Francis looked up into the heavens, he
didn't see matter and stuff. He didn't see profit centers
and cash cows. He saw "Brother Sun" and "Sister
Moon," creation as a gift of God, signs and signals of a
God who loved men and women, whom God endowed
with gifts that nourished, sustained and bonded them
to one another. In the Catholic tradition, we speak of
God speaking in two books: the book of Scriptures and
the book of Creation. We hear the voice of a good, lov-
ing, sustaining God coming through loudly in the amaz-
ing diversity that is God's good creation.
It has always been the Franciscan tradition not to
"dominate" creation, to do whatever we want to cre-
ated things, but to "care for creation" because it is cre-
ation that cares for us.
The environment: Pope Francis and
St. Francis' Canticle of the Creatures
For many years, I was on the board
of directors and then president of
Franciscans International, an NGO
(non-governmental organization) at
the United Nations that works for
peacemaking, the protection of the
poor and the care of creation.
We were part of worldwide discus-
sions of the issue of sustainable de-
velopment, the doable option of
creating an economic agenda that
addresses extreme poverty in the
world in such a way that doesn't de-
plete and sacrifice the planet in the
process. Too often we hear that we
can't do both. We need to ruin the
planet to lift up the poor. That is sim-
ply not the case.
It's a mindset thing that both Pope
Francis and St. Francis are getting at.
Since the Enlightenment, we have
been taught by a secular imagina-
tion that God is fundamentally stingy
and we are competitors against one
another for the scarce resources that
come from a stingy God. In a Fran-
ciscan mindset, nothing could be fur-
ther from the truth, God is not stingy
at all.
In fact, St. Bonaventure describes
our Creator as a "fons plenitudo,"
an overflowing fountain of generos-
ity, creativity, and ingenuity spilling
out and spilling over with goodness,
kindness, and opportunity from one
generation to the next. The Creator
offers us a world amazing in abun-
dance and diversity.
But, we have to tend the planet,
having a "dominion of care" for
what we have received so gener-
ously from God. Pope Francis is sug-
gesting that we have to develop an
"integral ecology," that is, we need
to develop an attitude and strategy
that doesn't pit human interests
against or above the planet's capaci-
ties. We need to jettison the mindset
that sees creation as our "enemy."
A fraternal relationship allows us
to work cooperatively with one an-
other, in a holy reverence for God's
deeper purposes and meaning, and
with creation itself in building a sus-
tainable economy and lifestyle for
all. Immediate profit cannot be the
sole or overriding reason for every-
thing we do. Pope Francis considers
that mindset part of the "dangerous
desires" of our time that can only
lead to greater polarization and in-
creased levels of violence.
(Fr. David is dean of the School of
Franciscan Studies and executive di-
rector of the Franciscan Institute at
St. Bonaventure.)
Fr. David Couturier, O.F.M. Cap., joined the university community last sum-
mer. Known for his combined expertise in organizational development,
strategic planning, and Franciscan education, his many publications span
the fields of psychology, pastoral care, social justice and organizational de-