Brother Ken Homan, SJ
Here in the United States, much of the pre-encyclical news coverage has coincided with reports on upcoming presidential elections. The presidential race includes several Catholic candidates, such as Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, and Martin O’Malley. News groups ranging from National Public Radio to The New York Times have focused on the confrontation that may arise from candidates who deny Pope Francis’ right to speak on climate and economy. Indeed, several have already stated that Francis should stay out of politics and science.
My first instinct is to dismiss these politicians – to buy into the reported conflict and to assume my own righteousness. Yet consuming this conflict only feeds inaction and disregard for creation. Francis calls us to prophetic witness for creation and the poor. In Laudato si’, Francis reminds us that Christ calls us to conversion. We can easily say that politicians need to convert. But we too must be open to God’s transformation.
This conversion is incredibly deep and multifaceted. It forces us to find God in all things, including those places we don’t often see God. It also pushes us to practically address the need for environmental protection and care for our beloved poor. As a Jesuit, it means recommitting to my vow of poverty and recognizing the environmental impact that we Jesuits have due to our comfortable lifestyle in the United States. We must be open to less material comfort, to greater freedom, and to greater service with and for others.
On a larger political-economic scale, we in the United States have a great responsibility before us. We consume incredible amounts of materials, destroying and devouring lives. Projects like the Keystone XL pipeline promise to destroy land and the indigenous cultures that live and pray there. Our obsession with fossil fuels shreds mountains to their roots, impoverishing rural communities and leveling God’s natural beauty. We immensely contribute to climate change and the havoc it wreaks.
However, we must not let these challenges pull us back from conversion and action. Francis reminds us, “For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.” God yearns for us to convert toward a deeper love of God, creation, and our neighbors. This conversion takes place on both individual and communal levels. Through our conversion, we must challenge ourselves, our communities, and our leaders to have greater respect and care for creation.
The United States faces an uphill battle against culturally engrained consumerism and individualism. The more we reorient ourselves to God and to our community, the more our witness feeds conversion of those around us. May we be ever full of hope and prophetic love for the poor and creation. “Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”
Ken is a Jesuit brother of the Wisconsin Province. After two years at Creighton University, Ken entered the Jesuits. Currently, he studies history and theology at Fordham University. Ken is a regular contributor to The Jesuit Post.