This week's 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (23-31 August 2005) offers a timely incentive to read "Laudato si'". The Encyclical offers fresh comprehension of Katrina as an environmental-human-urban disaster 'impatiently waiting to happen again'. Michael Czerny S.J. works in the President's Office, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In 2014 the Council was charged by Pope Francis to prepare the first draft of the Encyclical, signed on Pentecost 2015.
My purpose is briefly to present the new encyclical Laudato si’and the light it might shed on the mission of the Society of Jesus in Canada.
The social teaching of the Church began formally in 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. One could say that Rerum Novarum brought the industrial revolution into the life of the Church and sent the Church out on mission into the industrial revolution.
At all times, nature is indisputably the dominant force on earth. Earthly life is subject to it, and human flourishing is easy under some conditions, difficult in many other situations.
During over 200 years of industrial revolution, the so-called developed world invested much and benefitted much, while the former colonies have been paying much and benefitting relatively little. And during the same 200+ years, the same industrial production has harnessed some natural forces and exploited many natural resources. In doing so, it has increasingly impacted upon nature to such an extent that, as we have discovered very recently and extremely ‘late in the day’, something most significant has changed: we humans have now become responsible for nature. Not entirely. There are still forces of nature, like wind and waves, avalanches and earthquakes, that are vastly more powerful than human interventions. But with the industrial revolution changing and damaging nature, humankind has become capable of destroying it, at least as a human habitat, but still retains a limited chance to salvage it and learn to care for it.
If these circumstances as rapidly sketched are true enough, then Laudato si’ is not about the greening of the Church. Laudato si’ does not just bring the environment into the Church or send the Church out into the environment. It doesn’t just update Rerum Novarum and subsequent Catholic social teaching. Laudato si’ is not an ecological encyclical.
Instead, its message is truly comprehensive: The industrial revolution was, and continues to be, based on abundant and cheap coal and other fossil fuels, and on abundant and cheap natural resources. But what was abundant is ever less so, and what went for cheap proves to be exorbitantly costly. This cannot continue. The industrial revolution has to be slowed down as soon as possible, stopped relatively soon, and completely re-tooled. Our models of work, growth, development, progress and even culture, of investment, production, commerce, distribution and consumption, have to change. Humankind must quickly learn to relate to both the environment and the poor (two aspects of the one crisis!) on a more just and more sustainable basis.
Laudato si’ is a new Rerum Novarum.
The Church in earlier times addressed the social order as a kind of outsider, but it is no longer so. With the new Rerum Novarum, the Church of Vatican II and especially of Gaudium et Spes is manifestly willing to go out into the whole social order and accompany humankind as we urgently take stock and make decisions and re-tool.
The Church is now ready to accompany every level of decision-making, every form of governance, and this way of being “the Church in the modern world” would seem to include a needed and welcome style of moral leadership. “The work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time ‘she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.’”
At the heart of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, Jesuits have always prayed “not to remain deaf to Christ’s call, but to be ready and in haste to answer it.” It does make a difference, though, how Jesuits conceive “this enterprise” which Christ the King is engaged in and invites us to sign up for. Over the centuries, it has surely evolved: … with St Ignatius and the first Companions, “to conquer the whole world and all my enemies” … with the Restoration, to recover those lost to various revolutions … with Paul VI and John Paul II, to join in the struggle against atheism and weigh in on the clash of ideologies … with Benedict XVI, to re-Christianize the galloping secularism so as “to protect mankind from self-destruction” … with Father General Nicolás, the frontiers … with Pope Francis, the peripheries … and after Laudato si’, “Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.” Might this not be the mission that our Society is now called to take up?
Today, His call may sound something like this:
The Second Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to death on the cross. So Christ is mysteriously at work in a hidden manner throughout the natural world as a whole. At the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, the Risen One is mysteriously holding all creatures to himself and directing them towards their fullness. The very flowers of the field, the birds of the air, the sons and daughters of humanity, are now imbued with his radiant presence.
To share, in other words, in this great work which – including faith, justice, culture, dialogue, etc. – is necessarily mystical. Accordingly, let us not be deaf to His call.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light.
Help us to protect all life.
Help us to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! Laudato si’! Amen.
 Cf. Laudato si’ §§ 52, 59, 112, 128-29, 138, 164, 194.
 Laudato si’ § 79 quoting Caritas in Veritate § 51.
 Spiritual Exercises § 95.
 Laudato si’ § 83.
 Cf. Laudato si’ § 100.
 Karl Rahner S.J., “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”
 Cf. Laudato si’ § 246, final petition.