Reflection on the Encyclical Laudato Si, The Gospel of Creation (Chapter 2)
Basic in our Christian education is that each and every one of us is created in the image and likeness of God. With respect to human beings, there is indeed no question that we are implored to follow in his footsteps and be as close to His image as possible. Being created in His image and likeness becomes the very basis for the human dignity that we now possess and which each and every one of us must respect. But how about the non-human beings and things created by God which do not possess the same qualities and gifts we are endowed with?
It is conceded that we are considered the custodians of the earth; that we are tasked to protect and preserve the nature as it is given to us. It has been forwarded that we are given dominion over the earth and the creatures found within it. The word dominion, however, is prone to be interpreted erroneously. In legal terms, dominion connotes both title and possession, in essence, ownership. This connotation is distorted, for while it is true that man is given possession of the earth and its goods, the title is never passed to us. The title remains with God, the Creator, who made all beings, human or not, for a specific plan and purpose. As stewards of God, we are expected to take care of his creation. We must forever be cognizant of the fact that we are privileged to have been endowed with intelligence among all other creatures, and as such, we have better facilities to understand the laws of nature. As a consequence, therefore, we must be able to respect not only one another but also of the core purpose of all created beings. To believe that we have absolute dominion over all other creatures is fatal; it can lead to human flaws – greed, desires, and ultimately, sin, which essentially causes the rupture in the harmonious relationship between human beings and nature. Thus, the best way to describe the nature of our control over the earth is that we, as human beings, are to be considered as usufructuaries of God who constituted a usufruct on the earth which he created. The naked ownership remains in Him, and we are only privileged to use the thing in usufruct (the earth) and its fruits. This is of course coupled with the obligation to keep and preserve the form of the thing held in usufruct. In other words, we may only use but never abuse.
Trite as it may be, it is true that love can move mountains; it can be the source of many great and wonderful things. In fact, love is the fundamental moving force which led to the creation of all things. To create something implies the use of free will, driven by a desire to bring something into existence, and what stronger force can there be to be able to create something so big and significant such as the whole world but love? Evidently, each and every being created is an object of God’s love. Following this, it is to be noted that creation is different from nature. While the latter is necessarily a system which may be understood, analyzed and controlled, the former is the result of God’s love which cannot be easily comprehended. Creation, to be understood, requires faith which would enable us to appreciate the beauty of each and every creation. When we have faith, then and only then will we understand that we must not take the thing in usufruct for granted and must, in fact, cultivate it to reach its maximum potential for the common good. Each creature has an ultimate purpose and such is not to be found in us for the final goal of each and every one of us is to be with God. Thus, we are compelled to lead all the creatures back to our Creator.
As part of the universe created by God, we are all connected with bonds, though unseen, which hold us tightly and in communion with one universal family. Nevertheless, to believe that everything or everyone on equal footing is sheer ignorance on our part. We must recognize that the world we live in is not a utopian place. It is only when we recognize this fact that we may undertake the necessary measures and works so that we may, inch by inch, get closer to our ultimate goal to achieve the image and likeness of God. It is only when we suppress ignorance and tolerance that we, as a human race, may properly exercise that sense of deep communion with all of God’s creation. Of course, we cannot feel the genuine sense of communion with nature if we are unable to sympathize with our fellow human beings. While it is easy to wish that we should have two hearts, we cannot change the reality that we only have one heart. To this point, in order to keep our hearts capable of cultivating a deep and sincere communion, we must feed our hearts with kindness, tenderness, and compassion with our fellow human beings. It is only when we are able to commune properly with our fellow human beings may we have the same love to take care of the earth God has given us for protection and preservation. Because everything is interrelated, we cannot simply dichotomize our relationships with one another as human beings and our relationships with nature and environment. Because we only have one heart, how we treat our fellow human beings says a lot about how we will be able to treat other creatures of God.
It has been established that our custody of the earth is not tantamount to us having dominion over it. The naked ownership of which always pertains to God who made all the existence of the creatures possible. Nevertheless, the usufruct of the earth can be deemed to be a shared inheritance which should be shared with every one of us in common. As co-owners of the right in usufruct, each and every one of us is tasked with a shared responsibility for the preservation of the earth. Moreover, similar to the inherent power of the state on eminent domain, the earth is also under the principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods. Having a private property and exercising one’s own right’s over it is expressly protected and sanctioned by the very laws that we have which can be only limited by the legitimate exercise of that state’s power of eminent domain for public use and for the common good. Similarly, the Church defends the legitimate right to private property but such right is always subject to a social mortgage so that the goods may serve the general purpose to which such goods are intended – to recognize the equal dignity of all human beings. As such, we are called to be sensitive to the needs of our fellow human beings and to respond accordingly to circumstances presented to us. We must always make the moral choices in accordance with the norms which evolved with the sanction of the Church and the society. This is true even with our relationship and treatment with nature and environment which has been entrusted to us as agents of God.
It is but commonplace for us to have an idol, an inspiration of some sorts, or an image with which we aspire to become. While it is true that being made in the image and likeness of God is a great pressure on our part, we should see it as a great honor that we are given the privilege to be the object of God’s love as manifested by his act of creating us and the whole world. It is now incumbent upon us to live up to all the trust and privileges He has given to us by always striving to do what is right. We cannot promise to always to do the right thing, for indeed we are mere humans susceptible to temptations, nevertheless, the recognition of our personal limitations and the determination to do right, coupled with earnest prayers will go a long way.