I was asked to give a short reflection on Laudato Si in the Philippine context. I will do so in three short points: the place of the heart in ecology, conversion to the beautiful, the victims as teachers of ecological spirituality.
The Place of the Heart in Laudato Si
I would like to say that Laudato Si is not just about scientific analysis of globalization and climate change, not only about counting our carbon footprints or the advantages of recycling. To rally people to action sometimes is an uphill climb since people gets the impression that ecology is too abstract, scientific and technical. For people to act, they need to feel it within them. Passion to change things can only come from the heart.
It is for this that I am convinced that ecology should be seen as located within. It is first of all about the heart, about our friendships with nature, with others and with our God. In the words of the Dalai Lama, it about our “gentle and peaceful relations.”
There is a seemingly insignificant note in Laudato Si which goes:
“The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighborhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves” (LS, 84).
I think this is the “heart of Laudato Si”. If we want to rally people to care for our common home, ecology should be portrayed as a “matter of the heart”.
In a culture which values the role of the family like the Philippines, “home” is a crucial metaphor. The heart of ecology is first of all coming home – coming home to our significant places and persons from childhood till now; coming home to ourselves who have been dissipated by the noise of technology described as “one dimensional paradigm” by Pope Francis; and coming home to God who has revealed himself in a quiet stream, in a river, or in a breeze under a tree one of those quiet evenings of your life.
In fact, “ecology” comes the Greek word “oikos” which means home, something familiar, something personal, close to one’s heart. Spirituality is not just within the soul or inside of us. It is also outside us, it is in a place.
Conversion to the Beautiful
What interests me in the lines of action is what I call the “conversion to the beautiful”. Pope Francis writes:
“If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple” (LS, 215).
People in the Church have always been concerned with the truth (verum) and the good (bonum) but have forgotten the beautiful (pulchrum). Yet we have also observed that these guardians of truth and morals are not only rigid people. They are also the most often hypocritical. All of them have clenched fists; they have forgotten to smile; and for them it is the whole world that is to blame, not themselves.
“Conversion to the beautiful” avoids this self-righteous attitude, draws us out of our self-centeredness – toward beauty, to creation, to the flowers, to the sea, to the land, ultimately, to God… like the fishermen, gardeners, farmers. These ordinary simple people do not think high of themselves. They point to the sun, the rain, the birds and God as the source of their lives and being.
I was once asked, “When was the last time your stopped to smell the flowers?” It dawned on me that I have been smelling books, not flowers.
The Victims as Teachers of Ecological Spirituality
I once read a quotation from the Raji people in the India-Nepal border: “Before we knew where the gods were. They were in the trees. Now there are no more trees.” No wonder the gods have all gone.
But we cannot end with this negative note. Where does hope reside? From the same poor peoples themselves, those who are victims of the world’s ecological problems. I once volunteered in San Antonio, Basey, Samar a month right after the great typhoon Haiyan struck in 2014. I helped the parish priest in things that might help the people make sense of what was happening.
In one recollection (what is called de-briefing sessions), I asked a group of farmers, what is next after Yolanda. One farmer stood up, grab the microphone and said:
“We want to go back to our farms. We want to plant again.”
The next few days, the world was celebrating Christmas. In San Antonio, it rained a bit days before and the farmers were beginning to plant rice on that early Christmas morning. I was watching them from afar after my Christmas Mass.
And I told myself: “Like the first Christmas, there are no angels who come down from heaven singing Alleluia. But I guess Jesus is born in San Antonio today.”
I began to realize that it was these poor victims of ecological disaster themselves who taught me what is at the heart of Laudato Si. Hope. That morning, people did not see it, but the gods have come back to San Antonio.
Ironic as it is, the victims themselves of ecological disasters are our teachers of ecological spirituality.
Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.
St. St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University