The Vatican has identified the period of time from May 24, 2020 through May 24, 2021 as the “Laudato Si’ Special Anniversary Year,” in order to commemorate the encyclical’s fifth anniversary. As an Ignatian Yoga community, we might take this year as an opportunity to engage more deeply with the encyclical, to commit ourselves to embodying its insights, and to connect our own embodied efforts with the efforts of other people and communities committed to undergoing “ecological conversion.” As we do so, we might call to mind the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, released by Fr. Arturo Sosa on February 19, 2019. These preferences were developed with the intention of guiding Ignatian organizations and initiatives for the next decade. The preferences are as follows:
- To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;
- To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a
mission of reconciliation and justice;
- To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future;
- To collaborate in the care of our Common Home.
Inspired by the fourth Universal Apostolic Preference, we might return to Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, seeking guidance for how we can creatively reform our relationships with one another and with the earth. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis invites his readers to undergo an “ecological conversion.” This green metanoia necessarily consists of two intertwining transformations: personal transformation and collective transformation. For Jesus followers, a liberating encounter with the living Christ can serve as the animating core of these necessary shifts. As Francis has it, Christians require “an ‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”
During this special anniversary year of Laudato Si’, we might attempt to more intimately encounter Jesus, with the aim that this personal encounter will inform and interweave with our ecological conversion. We might attempt to deepen our friendship with Jesus, with the understanding that if this encounter is authentic, it will gradually transform the way that we relate to the myriad human and more-than-human beings whose lives intertwine with ours. For instance, inspired by the first Universal Apostolic Preference, we might decide to devote this year to undergoing the Spiritual Exercises. We might set the specific intention that our deepening encounter with Christ through the Exercises will coincide with a deepening conversion to the earth and its inhabitants. Perhaps we may undergo the 19th annotation of the Exercises, an “Ignatian Retreat in Daily Life,” with the accompaniment of a spiritual director or through an online program.
As we meet Jesus more deeply within ourselves and in our world, and as this meeting dilates our hearts and transforms our senses and sense of self, we might more consistently imitate him by taking on his way of seeing and being. We might be particularly guided by what Francis calls “the gaze of Jesus.” We might allow the section of Laudato Si’ (Chapter 2, Section 7) which Francis titles “The Gaze of Jesus” to guide our prayer. In this section, Francis proposes that Jesus “was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder.” His gaze was attentive, sensitive, and loving. “As he made his way throughout the land, he often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things,” Francis writes. How might our deepening encounter with Jesus inspire us to imitate this gaze? Can we find creative ways to come into closer touch with the natural world, contemplating its beauty, opening ourselves to the divine message embedded in all beings? Perhaps we can begin to imitate the gaze of Jesus by tending to particular plants in our apartments, or by discovering the names of previously unnoticed plants on our campuses or in our parks and yards with the help of an app like PlantNet.
Our encounter with Jesus, and our imitation of his ways of seeing and being, can inspire us to build relationships of attentiveness, sensitivity, and reciprocity with an ever-widening web of beings, human and more-than-human. In the process, we are called to pair our affirmation of the goodness of creation with renunciation of and resistance to practices that contribute to the desecration of creation. Perhaps attending more deeply to the dignity and goodness of creation will inspire us to adopt a plant-based diet, in an effort to honor the animals suffering in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Perhaps attending more deeply to the dignity and goodness of creation will inspire us to take a stand against the application of pesticides in our parks and on our campuses. Perhaps attending more deeply to the dignity and goodness of creation will motivate us to initiate or join a campaign for a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in our parishes, homes, and places of work.
Led by Laudato Si, we might develop our capacity to hear and respond to what Francis calls, echoing Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” We might attend to the fact that the ecological crisis is a social crisis, perpetuated by systems of injustice which benefit particular human beings (and, inordinately, white men with access to positions of power within these systems) at the expense of othered human and more-than-human beings. We might align our lives with the second of the Universal Apostolic Preferences by working to transform the systems and institutions we inhabit into spaces of reconciliation and justice. We might demand that the politicians representing us at a local, state, and national level craft and pass policies that attend to the entangled cries of the earth and the poor. We might vote in November with these entangled cries resonating in our hearts. While doing so, we might find ways to stand in solidarity with a group like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization based in Immokalee, FL that is committed to protecting the dignity of farmworkers through vital programs such as the “Fair Food Program.” We might find ways to commit our energies to resisting the entanglement of ecological degradation and systemic racism, which is so vividly evident in contexts like Standing Rock and Flint, Michigan. This entanglement is evident, now, in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, exacerbated by environmental racism. As we continue to grapple with the impact of COVID, and as we return to Laudato Si, perhaps we can particularly commit to discussing and confronting environmental racism with members of our family, parish, or school community.
Pope Francis emphasizes that the “ecological conversion” we must undergo cannot merely remain a personal process of transformation. Our personal transformation must consistently weave into collective transformation. As Francis has it, “self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today.” Francis emphasizes the significance of communities and networks of communities to the process of developing a constructive response to the crisis in which we find ourselves. For Francis, ecological conversion requires “community conversion.” Perhaps we can connect our energies and efforts with communities that are working to actively embody ecological conversion, such as the Agape Community in Hardwick, MA or Benincasa Community in Queens, NY. And as we, members of the Ignatian Yoga community, engage with and embody the insights of Laudato Si, may we do so with the inspiration and guidance of the third Universal Apostolic Preference. May we “accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.” May we do this in our homes and churches, on our campuses and in our classrooms, through Youtube and Zoom.