Laudato si’ and the Pilgrim
"In the Christian understanding of the world, the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ, present from the beginning: 'All things have been created through him and for him' (Col 1:16)" - §99, Laudato si’
Pope Francis' first encyclical Laudato si', written in 2015 in response to a growing concern over the state of the planet, reminded the Church of its ecological mission and the creating and redeeming power of Christ. By asking for the gaze of the Church to turn toward the Creator, Francis asks each person to adopt the vision of Christ, who "lived in full harmony with creation" (§98, LS).
As a pilgrim to earth, Christ declares that creation is worth journeying to and saving—it is a sacred destination for Christ’s redemption. In Laudato si', Pope Francis offers the Church this vision of the Creator who recognizes the dignity and worth of His creation. Drawing from the Gospels, he outlines what we as pilgrims can do to model Christ's pilgrimage in recognizing creation as the perennial resource of reflection for the true heavenly home.
The first main ecological virtue that Pope Francis calls for is a greater sense of wonder and awe in creation. He states that "the universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches of God" (§86, LS). The contemplation of this wonderful creation instills a love of God—all of nature speaks of the glory of God. This is why Christ, when He made His pilgrimage to earth, was "able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because He Himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder" (§97, LS). Christ showed this ecological virtue of wonder and awe when He asked His disciples to contemplate mustard seeds (Mt 13:31-32), wild flowers (Lk 12:27), and the birds of the air (Mt 6:26).
Pilgrims on a journey toward their sacred destination can develop Christ's virtue of appreciating the creation around them. The virtue of wonder and awe can only be cultivated through a sense of slowing down to appreciate the goodness in the world, which can be practiced on pilgrimages where there is a pause from the daily activities and busyness of life.
The second ecological virtue that Pope Francis highlights in Laudato si' emphasizes our relationship with the earth. He states that "human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself" (§66, LS). Because these relationships are connected, if one of them suffers a break, the other two suffer as well. Consequently, after the Fall, "the harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations" (§66, LS). Because the relationship with God was broken, the relationships with our neighbors and with the earth suffered as well. The way to heal this division, according to Pope Francis, is to give God's gift of creation to our neighbor, while rejecting possession over creation or ourselves. Humans are called "to use the earth’s goods responsibly" (§69, LS), meaning the gift of creation is valued because God created it as a gift to be cultivated. In fact, God's Trinitarian imprint is on each aspect of creation. Each person of the Trinity is a gift to the other person of the Trinity. By being made in the image of the Trinity, all of us and all of creation are meant for the communion of the Trinity where all is shared as a gift.
This is directly related to the virtue of hospitality, which cultivates a communion between people on pilgrimages. By sharing a home and sharing the gift of God's land on a pilgrimage, the pilgrim heals the human family and orders creation toward its ultimate goal as a gift. A communion of land and goods on the pilgrimage prepares the pilgrim for the chosen destination, which is where he or she offers intentions in communion with God.
The third ecological virtue that Pope Francis calls for is Christ's joy and peace. The Christian lifestyle should be centered on a "simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack" (§222, LS). When Christ came to earth, He came for all to have "life and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). The life of a Christian is one of constant gratitude for all the gifts of God. This abundant gratitude within the Christian is because she sees the eternal significance of creation without possessing creation as the goal itself. This eternal perspective on all of creation builds hope in the Christian for Heaven, where all beauty found in the earth will be amplified and extended forever.
A pilgrimage highlights this hope in the pilgrim, who is desiring not only their earthly destination but also the Heavenly one. This hope is what inspires joy and peace, since the pilgrim knows that Christ desires to be closer to him or her each step of the way. This peace and joy is expressed in the desire to see God in each conversation, sunrise, and display of beauty in creation while on a pilgrimage. Pope Francis tells each pilgrim: "In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God, for 'if the world has a beginning and if it has been created, we must enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was its Creator'. Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope" (§224, LS).
Toward the end of the pilgrimage when the hope of reaching the chosen site has been fulfilled, the pilgrim finds themselves delivering to God their chosen intention that they have dwelled upon throughout the journey. Even if the intention is not answered in the desired way, God promises to be there. One of Christ's final promises says "I am with you always" (Mt 28:20). The Christian pilgrim remembers these words, making each moment a pilgrimage toward God, with a ceaseless desire for the final pilgrimage when all creation will be made new in Heaven. Pope Francis declares that "At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven" (§243, LS). Just as the earth was the first Temple, so is Christ the new Temple who fills all creation with His splendor. As He made a pilgrimage to earth, we make a pilgrimage to Him each day, singing praises to the Creator as we go.
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 - §246, Laudato si'
Mary Mueller is a junior at the University of Notre Dame studying Theology with minors in Catholic Social Tradition, Philosophy, and Studio Arts. She comes from the great state of Minnesota, but her accent will tell you that before she does. She loves reading, throwing pottery, hiking, and going on impromptu pilgrimages to the prayerful spots on campus.