Our Common Home

Earlier in the summer, Pope Francis issued an encyclical letter about the environment, addressed not just to the faithful, but ‘every person living on the planet’. He describes the planet Earth as ‘our common home’, like a ‘sister with whom we share our life.’ Yet our sister ’cries out….because of the harm we have inflicted on her...plundering her at will.’ He doesn’t mince his words when he says the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more ’like an immense pile of filth’, with once beautiful landscapes covered with rubbish; a world wounded by sin, ’the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life’. One commentator suggests the image he conjures up, reminds him of the darkening world created by Tolkien in his ’Lord of the Rings’, Hobbiton under threat from Sauron and the Orcs; but, he says, at the same time there is too in the encyclical the image of the ‘Shire’ as it might be again one day, an earthly paradise restored Certainly the image of ’our common home’ suggests something more intimate and personal than the harshness of our industrialized world– the family gathered around the hearth, children and parents at the table, a yard with a vegetable patch. Francis highlights a number of the present environmental problems that threaten this more gentle world and sets out how we might go about addressing them; however he concludes that despite all the scientific evidence around us, most of world leaders and governments  seem reluctant to accept  responsibility for what we are doing to our planet!

For those of us who see the earth as God’s creation, we know that we are only the stewards who  have been entrusted with the planet’s care. Instead of exercising good stewardship, at the heart of the matter seems to be humankind’s arrogant assumption that we are creation’s ‘Lords and masters’. A ‘lordship’ displayed in what appears to be a  desire to consume more and more; in other words human greed which has led to a massive plundering of the earth’s natural resources. This is the message Francis is so keen to emphasise as he addresses people of every faith and none, all of us members of one human family; for though the Earth may be our sister, she is also our ’beautiful mother who opens her arms’ to all her children.

This concern for planet Earth, ’our common home’, is nothing new in the Church’s social teaching, the situation has just become more urgent as we have, in the words of Francis’s predecessor, gravely damaged the natural and social environment ‘through our irresponsible behaviour’, whereby we have regarded everything as ‘simply our property’ to use ’for ourselves alone’. Francis does not deny the enormous benefits that humanity has gained from all the technological advances we have made, from the invention of the steam engine to today’s digital revolution and nano technology  but we live in a world of ’rapidification’, where the speed of human activity contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution and has not necessarily  been geared either towards the common good or been matched by  a growth in human responsibility towards the planet.  Francis wants us  to develop a  vision that takes into account every aspect of the present global crisis and develop what he calls an ’integral ecology’. Nature can not be regarded as something separate to ourselves, everything is interconnected; the urgent challenge to protect ‘our common home’  means bringing the whole human family together to seek  an integral and sustainable  development of the planet’s resources if we are not to destroy it because of  an ’irrational confidence in progress’.

The celebration of Harvest Festival in our churches and schools is a time to give thanks for the wonders of creation and all the earth’s abundance as we join that other Francis, St Francis of Assisi, in his beautiful hymn to creation,

‘Praise to you my Lord, for our sister, Mother earth, who sustains and governs us and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs…’

an opportunity also for all of us to reflect on what we are doing to ’our common home’.                               




your friend and priest,

Father Keith