Pope Francis’ recently issued encyclical contains much for a Daughter of Charity and those who share in the charism of Saints Vincent and Louise. Let us reflect on some of its points through the eyes of a Daughter of Charity.
From the Statutes of the Daughters of Charity we read,
Convinced that the goods of the earth form a common patrimony, they foster responsible use of natural resources and the equitable distribution of goods. (S 8d)
The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. (95) In that same paragraph the pope quotes the bishops of New Zealand who remind us that “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”.
The statutes of the Daughters of Charity again call us to be aware of how we use goods and the earth’s resources:
The Sisters often make a personal and community review* in which they discern their real needs, their use of goods and of the earth’s resources, their life style, and their duties of justice and charity. This is a means of preserving the spirit and practice of poverty. (S. 16a)
These writings make me reflect on this question: In what way can I live so that my use of the world’s goods does not rob the poor of what they need to survive?
Pope Francis speaks simply and powerfully, reminding us that we are all united on this planet; that each one of us needs to look out for the other, especially for the least among us. His utmost concern for those who are poor is very evident:
I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected… (16)
“Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”. (48, quoting the Bolivian Bishops Conference)
When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. (117)
The Vincentian tradition is very clear in its commitment to the dignity of each person, no matter their state in life:
“God has told everyone to help others as members of the same mystical body.”(St. Vincent de Paul)
Pope Francis calls us to no less:
“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor…” (49)
“Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged.” (93)
“The rich and the poor have equal dignity…” (94)
I am again called to question myself: How does my way of life reflect that I truly believe in the equality of the rich and poor alike?
The Constitutions tell us:
“The Daughters of Charity are constantly solicitous for the development of every person in all the aspects of their being. That is why they are alert to ways of helping their brothers and sisters to become conscious of their own dignity and agents of their own promotion. …They commit themselves to work for social transformation to change the unjust structures that cause poverty.” (C. 24e)
The encyclical calls for a conversion, a new way of living. Am I ready and willing to make the choices that reflect my convictions?
In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. This option entails recognizing the implications of the universal destination of the world’s goods, but, as I mentioned in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, it demands before all else an appreciation of the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers. We need only look around us to see that, today, this option is in fact an ethical imperative essential for effectively attaining the common good. (158)
Let us make our own the Christian prayer from the close of the encyclical:
A Christian prayer in union with creation
Son of God, Jesus, through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth, and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.
Today you are alive in every creature in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!
Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined to everything that is.
God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! Amen.