Mysticism Laudato Si’

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The Ignatian review of consciousness or examen can help convert us to care for creation and for the most vulnerable of the human family. The pope is unequivocal: Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience’ (217).  So find a quiet place to meet the Lord: sit with him and quietly gaze in on the world as an astronaut would. He is ‘present to everyone and everything’ (226). So you can chat as friend to friend.

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In their search for solutions to climate change most commentators simply leave God out of the picture. Scientists tend to brush aside the God-question: ‘God is dead, or at best distant, ineffectual, irrelevant: meanwhile there is urgent work to be done’. But Laudato Si’ refers to God one hundred and seventy-eight times: what portrait emerges?

In her novel, Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert is asked what sort of God she believes in. ‘A magnificent God!’ is her answer. And this is the image of God portrayed in Laudato Si’. There is no apology for introducing God, no wading through philosophical arguments to justify God’s existence.

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In the Introduction I quoted a mystic moment of Thomas Merton, when he saw the people in the shopping mall as they really are, the person each one is in God’s sight. Such moments can come our way too, when the doors of perception are cleansed. There is a rich depth waiting to be discovered in everyone around us.  We can be explorers, and then heralds of this truth.

The pope says: ‘Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person’ (2). ‘A mystical and contemplative relatedness knows how to see the sacred grandeur of our neighbour’ (The Joy of the Gospel, 92).

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The Sorrowful Way

‘Dear Lord, a few brave people tried to comfort you in your Passion—your Mother and other women, Simon from Cyrene… Would I have risked being with them? The pope says: ‘Injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable… This is a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters’ (158). Let me protest on behalf of those who are being cruelly treated.

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The Foot Washing: ‘Lord, what went on in your passion touches all time and space, all matter and every person. So let me now learn to link your passion with the present passion of humankind and of creation, so that Easter joy may finally dawn upon us all. After washing the feet of the disciples, you said, ‘I have set you an example; do as I have done’. But what can I do now to ease the world’s pain? The pope says: ‘The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest’ (13). Lord, I can serve at least one needy person, protect some corner of the earth. Let me do so, in companionship with you.’

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A civilization of love is everyone’s dream. It is also the dream of God. It was the dream of Jesus, who commanded us to love one another as he loves us. It is the task of the Holy Spirit–with our participation–to bring about this civilization of love. God’s dream cannot be otherwise, since God is love, and all relationships emanating from God are relationships of love.

We are invited to enter into the divine vision of a world in harmony, where everyone is at home with one another, where all feel wanted and included, where everything is shared and each rejoices in the uniqueness of those around them.

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Gardens offer endless scope for budding mystics! They are safe places, places of life, abounding in beauty. Where there is a garden, there will be water, and living things with their varied beauty. Charles Darwin, although remembered as the great proponent of evolution, saw himself primarily as a beholder of the natural world. He spent much of his life contemplating the simplest things, and he ends his great work, The Origin of Species, by noting: ‘It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank…’ This humble bank he studied is clothed with many plants, with birds singing, insects flitting about and worms crawling through the damp earth.

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Economics and politics make us look at the world as if we were superior to it. We can spend much time spectating things as if they meant little or nothing to us. But as minor mystics, we try to gaze in on created reality from the divine perspective The Pope asks us to become more conscious of our bondedness with all beings: we all started out together, and while we are indeed distinct we are tightly interwoven on Planet Earth. We are joined in a splendid universal communion, the dance of the species, and that dance will endure forever, for we have a common destiny, the transfigured glory of our common home, where all creation will rejoice together.

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Contemplate the rivers, streams, wells and all sources of fresh water, including the rain and the kitchen tap! Fall in love with water, and then make a commitment to do what you can to protect it.

The pope has much to say about our care for water. ‘One particularly serious problem is the poor quality of water available to one billion of the world’s poor. Unsafe water results in deaths and the spread of water-related diseases caused by micro-organisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera cause infant mortality. Underground water sources are threatened by the pollution produced by mining, farming and industry. Detergents and chemical products pour into our rivers, lakes and seas’ (29).

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Seas and oceans cover 70% of the surface of the globe. They offer us a rich world for contemplation in their varied moods, in the steady ebb and flow of the tides, in the play of sunlight and moonlight, in the power of wind and storm. As a child I remember that when my father was upset or in a dark mood he would walk four miles to the coast and spend time contemplating the sea, then return home a different man. Think back to the time you saw the sea for the first time. Watch small children on the beach and recover your experience of awe and delight at something so wonderful and strange.

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The sickness of Planet Earth leads to the sickness of its inhabitants, and especially the poor. The pope says:The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, the water, the air, and in all forms of life’ (2). ‘The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth’ (21). ‘We need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair’ (61).

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We enter here into the painful side of mysticism. Genuine mystics are moved by what they see, whether it be painful or pleasant. To contemplate is to take ‘a long, loving look at the real’ whether the real is beautiful or disfigured. The mystic tries to find God not only in what is radiant and lovely, but in the distortion of all which God made good. God was in disguise in the passion of Jesus and is likewise in the contemporary passion of Sister Earth.

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It is worthwhile to explore the riches of the pope’s chosen term for Mother Earth—Our Common Home. The word ‘home’ stirs up in us a world of memories and emotions. If you have had a happy childhood, home is the place for which you feel the greatest affection: it blended good relationships with the particularities of the place where you began your life. As Elvis Presley has it, Home is where the heart is. The lyrics run: ‘My heart is anywhere you are; anywhere you are is home’. This resonates with the saying, ‘It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home’.

The pope says: ‘Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life, and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us’ (1).

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Now that our reflections on the rich mysticism which underpins Laudato Si ‘ have cleansed ‘the doors of our perception’ we turn to the wretched plight of Sister Earth and allow an emotional response to well up in our hearts. Such a response, the pope says, is not naïve romanticism, for it affects our choices.

The pope says: ‘If we approach nature without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of ruthless exploiters… But if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then care will well up spontaneously in us (11). Responsible care of creation is an essential part of the Christian faith’ (64).

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At the end of this part of the book, it may help to gather some of the ‘mystical’ passages in Laudato Si’. Taken together they can suitably overwhelm you!

‘The divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet ‘(9).

’Each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, God’s boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is a caress of God’ (84).

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At the Offertory of the Eucharist, the priest puts a drop of wine into the chalice and says quietly, ’May we become sharers in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share our humanity’. What a statement this is, to affirm that we are sharers in Christ’s divinity!’ An outsider at the back of the church might expect a cheer from the congregation or at least a heartfelt ‘Amen’. But there is no response: Mass goes steadily on. The Western Church makes little of divinization, whereas it is a rich theme in the Eastern Church.

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The Eucharist is embedded in history: it stretches all the way back to the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago and also points forward to the divinisation of all things, the great cosmic banquet, when everything will rejoice together.

So the Pope can say

‘The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. In the bread of the Eucharist, creation is projected towards divinisation, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself’ (236).

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Scripture scholars use terms like ‘deep incarnation’ to indicate that Jesus’ roots are not on the surface level of things: instead they are embedded in the earth which began so long ago. St John does not say that the Word was made man or was made human; he goes deeper and says that the Word was made flesh. Flesh meant ‘all that is created’. Under divine guidance, matter evolved so that at the right moment, Jesus emerges as a child of the earth, as Mary and all of us are. The Gospels can emphasise that Mary’s child is ‘of the Holy Spirit’ because the Spirit has been active in creation from the beginning, and is responsible for our coming-to-be. So what is said of Jesus refers to us too: as his siblings we all share in his ‘success story’. Deep incarnation also implies the deep divinisation of our material world.

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Christian belief is that Jesus comes from God: he is divine; God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. With that firmly in place we can explore the statement that Jesus comes from within creation. The Pope says: ‘He comes from within, that we might find him in this world of ours’ (236).

Think of a daffodil bulb planted in late autumn. It doesn’t look anything spectacular, and it lies passive in cold and dark soil until springtime: then it begins to unfold according to its own mysterious laws of growth. At the right time its blossom appears in all its glory.

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Towards the end of Laudato Si’there is a magnificent paragraph, all too short, on the Eucharist. Every line is rich, and we will unfold its meaning over the next few reflections. The theologian von Balthasar says, ‘the cosmos is the monstrance of God’. Pope Francis develops that insight: he says that nature is not simply an outer frame for the sacred, but is itself sacred and reveals the divine. He then goes deeper yet: he says that Jesus, the Son of God, emerges from within creation.That challenges our imaginations! The Pope says:

‘He comes, not from above, but from within’ (236).

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Our topic is the mysticism underpinning Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. We try to make this mysticism our own. In other words, we try to meet God in nature’s limitless manifestations. A flower, a fly, a snail, a sunbeam, a shadow, a silhouette, a cloud, is more than just itself. Each of these simple things is a manifestation of God, and we are invited to catch on to their revelatory quality. Before being a problem to be cleared away, a messy pile of autumn leaves is a poem! Nightfall is not simply a moment when you have to turn on the light: deeper down it is a moment for awe, which leads us into mystery, and there God resides.

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This is our sixth reflection on the mysticism of Laudato Si’. Look back for a few moments on what is happening to your heart as you move along. Are you becoming a mini-mystic by now? This is important, and also thrilling! The theologian Karl Rahner remarked in the 1980’s that ‘the Christian of the future will be a mystic, or will not be a Christian at all.’

You may not be a person who spends much time alone with God—which is how we used to think of mystics—but as you contemplate nature is your capacity for wonder being enriched?

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Perhaps we used to think that spirit and matter were opposed to one another, but Laudato Si’ stresses that the Spirit is active in all matter in order to bring it home to God. Matter is spirit-endowed; it has vast potentiality; it is ‘on the move’. The theory of evolution is now accepted by the Church, with the added religious dimension that it originates in the Spirit, who has been playing in creation over some fourteen billion years, kneading and moulding it like clay, creating the most beautiful and extraordinary diversity of species. Each of these carries the stamp of life, which is the mark of the enlivening Spirit.

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A fundamental theme of Laudato Si’ is that everything is interdependent, so wherever we stumble on this interdependence, we are catching on to the work of the Holy Spirit, because the role of the Spirit is to unify and to facilitate creativity. We tend to think that the first Pentecost occurred after Jesus’ resurrection; but was the Spirit unemployed until two thousand years ago? No, the first Pentecost took place at the beginning of creation: the Spirit of God, brooding over the formless cosmos, gave it shape and meaning. God made us humans come alive by breathing the Spirit into random dust (Gen 2:7). As the Liturgy says, ‘The Spirit of God fills the whole world’. We live in a world reverberating with the Spirit!

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The perspective of Laudato Si’ is that every molecule of creation is sacred, and that through each single one God’s love is revealed. Creation is God’s first self-revelation, and it reveals God’s limitless love and affection for us. It is as if God were saying, ’Let’s pull out the stops, so everyone on the face of the earth will be able to see our love. All they have to do is to look at what is surrounding them!’  God sees all creation as good. When our impaired vision is corrected we come to see the world as a loving gift, and so are drawn towards God, and then towards care of the gift of creation that has been entrusted to our care. This is the goal of Laudato Si’. From this 20/20 mystical vision of nature as divine gift, our care for the earth will flow.


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The more we come to love nature in all its detail, the more we will want to care for it, because we care for the things we love. Here’s a poet’s vision of a single flower–a narcissus–coming into bloom:

When from a world of mosses and of ferns

At last the narcissus lifted a tuft of five-pointed stars

And dangled them in the atmosphere,

Then every molecule of creation jumped and clapped its hands:

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Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’ on Care for Our Common Home makes painful reading. It challenges us to change our flawed attitudes to Earth, and such change is hard. But behind the tough news is a mysticism, a faith-filled way of looking at Creation with ever-deeper love. Over the coming year we will explore this profound way of viewing creation. Then the pope’s challenges to us will be charged with new urgency, because as we come to love our Earth more, we will be drawn to defend it better.


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