In 1990 the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned its camera back towards Earth and found a pale blue dot.
At that time Carl Sagan said:
“Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.
That mote of dust, that pale blue dot, is our home, a gift from God to us.
From Laudato Si:
As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that 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” (LS 14)
Sagan’s quote is powerful, but Pope Francis pushes that sentimental understanding such that the sentiments are rooted in the powerful, cosmic truth that the world is a sacrament of communion. In other words, as we engage with creation and come to know it we become like priests offering up to God the world which He gave us. If this is our relationship to this pale blue dot, then questions of market forces, or government regulations, or pollution, or poverty, or global supply chains, all fall under this sacramental understanding.
Right at the beginning of the encyclical, Pope Francis says:
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (LS 2)
I see too many Christians here in the rich and powerful “west” chaffing at the Pope’s encyclical, often using common evasive tactics like focusing on whether it is well written or organized, or whether the Pope mentions Jesus enough times, etc. These are all fair assessments, but if our first response to the world was to fall on our knees in supplication and worship, because our first understanding is of the world as sacrament, I wonder if we would be pushing back as much to the Pope. I think he gets it right. His critique seems to be spot on. We have forgotten the garden, the gift of creation. If we understood and lived out the idea of “world as sacrament” there might not be a need for the encyclical, because the world would be less ravaged. Still, and our struggle bears this out, only in Christ do we find salvation, and only through Christ will the creation cease to groan.
Final thought: It’s a strange thing to think that the so-called radical, left-wing environmental movement is showing the Church (especially in the west) a little something that it has lost along the way.