In today’s offering, we will explore how scripture can inspire an “integral ecology” that brings together environmentalism with social justice, especially through the Beatitudes; we will engage Pope Francis’s illustration of “integral ecology” in his encyclical, Laudato si’; and we will turn to models for how we might embody “integral ecology” in our own lives through liberation theologians and the Benincasa Community.
Seek YHWH, all you living humbly on the land
You who obey YHWH’s laws!
Seek integrity, seek humility,
that perhaps you may find security
on the day of the anger of YHWH.
In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people,
and they will find refuge in the Name of YHWH.
Those left in Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies;
no words of deceit will pass their lips;
they will graze and lie down to rest with no one to terrify them.
Response: Happy the poor in spirit, the reign of God is theirs.
You who keeps faith forever, / secures justice for the oppressed,
Gives food to the hungry. / Adonai, You set captives free.
R: Happy the poor in spirit, the reign of God is theirs.
Adonai, You give sight to the blind.
You raise up those that were bowed down /and love the just.
You protect strangers.
R: Happy the poor in spirit, the reign of God is theirs.
The orphan and the widow You sustain, / but the way of the wicked You thwart, Adonai,
You will reign forever; / Your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia!
R: Happy the poor in spirit, the reign of God is theirs.
Consider your calling, sisters and brothers.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were influential, and surely not many were well-born.
God chose those whom the world considers foolish to shame the wise,
and singled out the weak of this world to shame the strong.
The world’s lowborn and despised, those who count for nothing,
were chosen by God to reduce to nothing those who were something.
In this way no one should boast before God.
God has given you life in Christ Jesus
and has made Jesus our wisdom, our justice, our sanctification and our redemption.
This is just as it is written,
“Let the one who would boast, boast in Our God.”
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside,
and after he sat down and the disciples had gathered around, Jesus began to teach them:
“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit;
the kindom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those in mourning:
they will be consoled.
Blessed are those who are gentle:
they will inherit the land.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice:
they will have their fill.
Blessed are those who show mercy to others:
they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those whose hearts are clean:
they will see God.
Blessed are those who work for peace:
they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those persecuted
because of their struggle for justice:
the kindom of heaven is theirs.
You are fortunate when others insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of slander
against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great. They
persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way.”
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
In An Ecological Theology of Liberation: Salvation and Political Ecology (2019), theologian Daniel P. Castillo articulates a theological vision that responds to the interlocking atrocities of ecological degradation and social injustice. He refers to his project, which emerges at the intersection of the fields of liberation theology and ecological theology, as an, “Ecological theology of liberation” (xxvi). Throughout his book, Castillo illuminates the convergence of God’s preferential option for the poor, especially in the Beatitudes, with God’s preferential option for the earth, and promotes the active enfleshment of these intertwining priorities (3).
For Castillo, the necessary intersection of work for social justice with work for environmental well-being is grounded in human society’s embeddedness in the natural world. Castillo points to Pope Francis as articulating a resonant worldview in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Castillo writes that Francis captures the, “Underlying unity between history/society and nature” (52). Environmentalists and ecotheologians frequently point to this false dualism as underlying practices and systems that degrade the earth. Francis’ sensitivity to the enmeshment of culture and nature feeds into his vision of integral ecology, which will require a radical transformation of the systems that stabilize our unjust and unsustainable status quo. Castillo observes that, for Francis, enacting the ideals of integral ecology requires a, “Paradigm shift away from the politics, economics, and cultural formations that now structure the global system,” (53).
In today’s readings we find the Beatitudes, which Castillo highlights as, “Key to understanding the character of the reign of God,” a reality that disrupts the operation of the global system and replaces it with a pattern of justice (127). He argues that the Beatitudes, “Articulate the vision of a time when the garden of the world is no longer numbered by the logic of the domination system but organized in accordance with the wisdom of God” (127). While Castillo suggests that each particular Beatitude crystallizes a vision of God’s renewal of the earth, he particularly highlights the ecological importance of the Beatitude unique to Matthew’s gospel, which we find in today’s reading: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (127).
Castillo proposes that a proper interpretation of meekness (Greek: praus) does not imply weakness, resignation, or timidity, but instead, “A sense of active nonviolence” (127). For Castillo, meekness, “Stands in contradistinction, not to confrontationality, but rather to pride and the lust for domination” (127-128). With this in mind, Castillo proposes that Jesus’ vision of the reign of God, which coincides with the inheritance of the earth by the meek, “Appears not only as good news for the meek but for the earth as well” (128). When God’s reign manifests, the community of life that is our earth is stewarded to by nonviolent humans; both humanity and the wider earth community are liberated from the global system of domination. Castillo notes that this New Testament vision echoes that of the prophet Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible, in which humble humans, “Organize the political ecology of the earth” (128). In the peaceable kin-dom we find human beings skillfully wielding plowshares and pruning hooks rather than weapons of violence.
While Jesus powerfully conveys the reign of God, he palpably enfleshes the wisdom of the parables in his life and ministry. Castillo notes, for instance, that the Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus himself as “meek” (128). Throughout the gospels, Jesus is depicted as one who lives in radical accordance with the will of God. He is, “Obedient to God’s will and the call to serve and care for the garden of the world” (129). Jesus is moved by his meekness to actively, “Confront and denounce the forces of the ‘anti-reign’—the forces that devour the earth and crush the poor—even at the consequence of suffering an unjust death on the cross” (129). The cross therefore operates as both a condemnation of the radically unjust systems of domination and an unveiling of God’s reign.
Guided by Castillo, we might approach the Beatitudes as a crystallization of the reign of God. When the meek inherit the earth and the global system of domination is subverted, an integral ecology will be established for the benefit of the poor and the earth, the human community and the wider community of life.
In Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home (2015), Pope Francis advocates an “integral ecology” that accounts for the inseparability of environmental well-being from social justice. Throughout Laudato si’, Pope Francis implores his readers to recognize that a, “True ecological approach always becomes a social approach,” and that it, “Must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment” (49). Like Daniel P. Castillo, Francis emphasizes that, “We are not faced with two separate crises,” a social crisis and an environmental crisis, but instead, “One complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139). In this respect, constructive solutions to this eco-social crisis must lead us to protect the integrity and dignity of both nature and human beings, with special attention to the marginalized.
An “integral ecology” uniquely centers both human beings who suffer under the conditions of the status quo as well as the wider community of creation. Echoing Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, Pope Francis emphasizes the significance of hearing and responding to, “Both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (49). In the process, Pope Francis points to his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, as a person who has powerfully embodied integral ecology, due to his sensitive attunement to both, “The poor and outcast” as well as to, “God’s creation” (10).
Pope Francis’s vision of integral ecology involves a profound recognition of interdependence, which extends down through the subatomic level. As Francis says, “Everything is closely interrelated.” For Francis, “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected,” as, “Not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation” (138). As human beings, our very genetic code intimately links us to countless beings (138). In this respect, when we turn our attention to the environment, we are not addressing a reality separate and apart from us; nature is not separate from us, nor is it a, “Mere setting in which we live” (139). We are interdependent with and inextricable from nature.
Just as Francis laments the loss of species and the lack of biodiversity, he laments the ways the exploitation of local environments does not merely rob local communities of resources, but violates the integrity and diversity of cultures. With this in mind, Francis emphasizes the fact that, “It is essential to show special care for Indigenous communities and their cultural traditions” (146). Francis highlights the fact that many Indigenous communities interpret the natural world as, “A sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values” (146). Such communities are problematically pressured or forced to, “Abandon their homelands which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture” (146). This, for Francis, is an utter travesty. An authentic integral ecology must be sensitively attentive to the ways in which the violation and erosion of cultures coincides with the violation and erosion of natural landscapes. Similarly, an authentic integral ecology must account for how environmental flourishing always coincides with the flourishing of a diverse array of local cultures.
Spend some time contemplating the significance of Jesus’ teaching that the meek shall inherit the earth, and think also about Daniel P. Castillo’s interpretation of this teaching. How might our own movement into meekness lead us into a deeper sensitivity to the goodness and beauty of creation, as well as a deeper sensitivity to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor? How might our own movement into meekness lead us to honor our embeddedness in creation while also actively resisting and transforming the systems of domination in which we are embedded?
In addition to drawing inspiration from Castillo, we might draw inspiration from Robin Wall Kimmer, biologist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In her essay “Returning the Gift,” Kimmerer suggests that the active practice of, “Paying attention to other beings…is humbling and leads inescapably to the understanding that we are surrounded by intelligences other than our own” (22). We are, for Kimmerer, “Surrounded by teachers and mentors who come dressed in foliage, fur, and feathers” (22). For Kimmerer, the centrally significant work of paying attention to the more-than-human world can generate deep wonder and joy, but it can also inspire a greater sensitivity to suffering. She writes, “Open and attentive, we see and feel equally the beauty and the wounds, the old growth and the clear-cut, the mountain and the mine” (2
Leonardo Boff is a widely influential liberation theologian who has devoted his career to theological reflection in the service of social justice and environmental flourishing. He is an Emeritus Professor of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and Ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University. Born in Brazil in 1938, Boff entered the Franciscans in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. He received his doctorate in theology at the University of Munich in 1970. In 1985, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith silenced Leonardo Boff for one year for his criticisms of the Catholic Church in the name of liberation theology, in his book Church: Charism and Power: Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church. In 1992, the institutional church threatened to silence Boff in order to prevent him from participating in the Eco-92 Earth Summit. Because of this, Boff left the Franciscans as well as the priesthood. In addition to devoting his career to articulating a liberating theology conducive to sustainability and justice, Boff has been outspoken on the issue of church reform. For instance, in 2012 Boff contributed to a Jubilee Declaration composed by Catholic scholars on the need to reform authority in the Catholic Church.
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Benincasa Community is a lay Catholic community located on six acres of land in Guilford, CT. The community is named after the 14th century mystic and reformer St. Catherine of Siena, whose family name was Beinincasa. Benincasa Community is inspired by and committed to three key streams of influence within the wider Catholic context: the Catholic Worker Movement, the Thompson Street Jesuits, and the Dominican Sisters of the Northeast. Benincasa’s rootedness in faith actively informs their work for sustainability and justice. The community is, “Grounded by faith, an emerging understanding of the new cosmology, the development of new economic models in our world, and the need for deepening relationships with the land and one another.” Their current intention is to develop a “green monastery” for lay people that draws inspiration from Peter Maurin’s vision of “agronomic universities”–places where working on the land is a place of learning–as well as the numerous ecological learning centers and farms founded by Catholic women religious. Benincasa pursues eco-social justice with a deep sensitivity to the interweaving of ecological degradation with social injustice. The community notes that, “We pursue Earth Justice by participating in intersectional activism addressing the exploitation of the land and individuals based on their geography, gender, race, and class.”
A. Vonn Hartung, a practitioner of “Catholic Sacred Art” has lived in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico since 1984. Hartung writes, “I dedicate my life and art to a search for the spiritual dimensions of human nature as well as God’s beauty revealed in Creation.” Through his art, he aims to, “Reveal the Light within.” He describes his painting, “On Heart as it is in Heaven” as, “Rhetorical in concept,” and as a painting that,
Presents us with two possibilities: one in harmony with God’s Creation, a future of justice, peace and sustainability. The other of plunder, chaos, endless war and an ultimate collapse of nature and life on our planet home as we know it. Earth is painted in the form of an egg, metaphorically symbolizing the fragility of Earth’s ecosystem as well as her natural abundance and fertility. The painting asks the question of the viewer, each one of us, whatever our religion or beliefs, which future do we want to live in, leave to our children and future generations?
Hartung notes that he painted “On Earth as it is in Heaven” in 1992, partially inspired by the deteriorating ecological conditions in Puerto Rico, the, “Thoughtless over-development and pollution that was going on, and the destruction of local communities.” He notes that Pope Francis’s Laudato si’ ultimately, “Spelled it all out completely.”
Image description: In space, above the Earth, Jesus rises up from the earth surrounded half by blue water and sky and half by brown and red earth. On both sides below him is human civilization, the blue side full of water, life, and flowering plants, the brown earth side full of chaos and sharp angles.