Four simple themes of Laudato Si’

Much will be written in the coming days, weeks and years about the second encyclical of Pope Francis, titled Laudato Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home. The lengthy and ambitious 184-page letter, addressed to “all people” who inhabit the planet, covers a lot of ground.

The Holy Father touches on everything from the invasiveness of technology in our daily lives to climate change to a very specific mention of the increased use of air conditioning. He even makes an unexpected and welcome reference to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her doctrine of the “Little Way.”

While the more specific points are covered well in many summaries already published, here are four simple themes that can serve as a quick framework for understanding the first Papal encyclical on ecology.

1. Everything is connected

The Holy Father uses words such as connection, interrelation, unity, relationship and harmony dozens of times throughout the encyclical, thus promoting the idea of an “integral ecology” that brings together an “ecology of nature” with an “ecology of man.”

Using St. Francis as an “example par excellence” of living out an “integral ecology,” the Pope notes that the saint “was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself.”

“Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with God, and with others,” the Holy Father states in making the point that the “justification of abortion” is incompatible with a concern for nature.

Additionally, Pope Francis underlines that every single person on earth is connected by the very fact that we all inhabit the earth, which is our “common home.”

The encyclical itself is addressed to “all people,” every single resident of earth, and it seeks “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” The dialogue includes every person, because we are all connected, and it requires “a new and universal solidarity.”

2. We are broken

The root of the problem that we commonly face together, The Pope states, is disunity.

Laudato Si' is the second encyclical of Pope Francis.“The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality,” the Pope writes. “They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.

“According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations.”

The Holy Father repeatedly mentions “excessive anthropocentrism,” which gives rise “to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world.”

Instead of “mastery” or “domination” of the world, the Pontiff states, “our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”

The Pope also expresses a particular concern for the fragmentation of knowledge, particularly of the disconnect between the sciences and technology and philosophy and theology.

3. The earth cries out

When man breaks his connection with God, neighbor and creation, he eventually does injury and violence to himself, others, and to the earth.

In the nearly poetic introduction to the letter, Francis writes of the earth as our sister: “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.”

Instead of caring for the earth, which is our “home,” we have made it “look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” the Pope writes.

Pope Francis includes several pointed paragraphs on the role of mankind in the warming of the climatic system, which he says is due in large part to “intensive use of fossil fuels.” He argues for a reduction of carbon emissions, in addition to other measures that would alleviate stress on the earth’s resources.

He advocates seeking clean and renewable energy sources, a “basic and universal human right” to drinkable water, and more far-sighted practices that respect the earth’s biodiversity and seek to protect species that are close to extinction.

Then there is the social destruction. Pope Francis points to several signs of “real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion.”

As an example, he points to media and the digital world that contribute to a sort of “mental pollution” through the production of “noise and distractions of an information overload.”

“The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation,” he states.

4. A call to conversion

“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast,” the Pope writes, quoting Benedict XVI. “For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.”

In a powerful statement on what the Pope terms “ecological conversion,” the Holy Father calls all Christians, even those who “tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment,” to allow the “effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ [to] become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”

“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue,” he asserts. “It is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

He proposes “cultivating sound virtues” through “little daily actions” to help people grow in a “selfless ecological commitment.” He suggests cutting down on the use of paper and plastic, reducing water consumption, using public transportation and planting trees.

The Pope suggests an examination of our lives and attitudes, particularly those connected with consumerism and a “throw-away culture,” and move toward “heartfelt repentance and desire to change.”

Pope Francis seeks with the encyclical that all people approach nature with an “openness to awe and wonder,” and to view creation as a gift of the Creator, and to speak of creation with the “language of fraternity and beauty.”

“If we feel intimately united with all that exists,” he states, “then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.”

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”