VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment calls for men and women to acknowledge their bodies as a gift from God, which should not be manipulated.
“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home,” the Pope wrote, “whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
The Pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si,” meaning “Praise be to You,” was published Thursday, June 18. Its name is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s medieval Italian prayer “Canticle of the Sun,” which praises God through elements of creation like Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and “our sister Mother Earth.”
In early 2014, the Vatican announced the Pope’s plans to write on the theme of “human ecology” – a phrase that was previously used by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
While the 184-page encyclical wades into controversial topics such as climate change, it also aggressively argues that it is not possible to effectively care for the environment without first working to defend human life and dignity.
The Pope wrote that human ecology implies the profound reality of “the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment.”
Pope Francis quoted from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, saying that there is an “ecology of man” because “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.”
Benedict’s words came from his Sept. 22, 2011 address to the German parliament on the foundations of law. He had discussed the importance of the ecological movement for its realization that “the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives.”
Man, he added, “does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself.”
After quoting Benedict, Pope Francis said that “our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings,” and that the acceptance of one’s body helps one to accept and honor the entire world as a gift.
“Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.”
He then turned to the importance of sexual complementarity, adding that “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.”
Pope Francis referred to his own general audience address of April 15, saying that “It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’”
In that address, on the complementarity of man and woman, he had touched on the importance of the two sexes and their reciprocal needs.
He lamented that contemporary culture has introduced doubt and skepticism over sexual complementarity: “For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it … the removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”
Ecology of daily life
Pope Francis’ jab at gender theory – which gives a basis for transgender identification – in his encyclical came in the context of a discussion on the “ecology of daily life,” during which he also discussed integral improvement in the quality of human life; creativity in responding to one’s environment; the brutality arising from poverty; urban planning; lack of housing; public transportation; and rural life.
The larger context of the Pope’s words on the ecology of daily life came in his chapter on integral ecology, during which he also mentioned environmental, economic, and social ecology; cultural ecology; the common good and inter-generational justice.