To make a point, Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English, asked a question: “How many of you have a cute puppy that you love?”
Many hands (not mine) shot into the air. (Not that I hate puppies, but I don’t have one.) Ochs then pointed out that not only are puppies worthy of love, but that also worms are a valuable part of our ecosystem, and she described the earthworm tub she keeps in her kitchen so the worms can convert kitchen scraps into soil.
“It’s the most amazing soil,” she noted. “It’s so rich, and it smells like life.”
The worms are doing something beautiful. And if you think of their abilities, the slimy, wiggly creatures have their own kind of beauty as an amazing part of nature. Or, as Ochs stated: “We sometimes ignore the miracles that are all around us.”
Ochs was part of a panel of Mount Mercy faculty who spoke Feb. 25 in the 2016 Aquinas Project, which was a reflection about an encyclical from Pope Francis called “Lauado Si.” The Aquinas event has been held at MMU since the late 1950s, and usually brings an outside speaker to campus. This year was different, but also very well done.
Pope Francis, as it turns out, is an environmentalist who makes the point in his book-length papal statement that love of the Earth is part of a Christian’s duty to love God. To paraphrase Dr. Bryan Cross, professor of philosophy, love of God implies love of His creation and His creatures—and to recognize that creation has intrinsic value beyond what utility it has for humans.
Cross started the program with a detailed summary of the encyclical, in which, among many other points, Pope Francis notes that love of neighbor and love of nature are closely tied concepts.
I could only attend about an hour of the 90 minute program—right in the middle, I had to leave for half an hour for another meeting, although I was fortunately able to come back. Sadly, I missed the end of Cross outlining the papal letter, and I missed at least half of the panel discussion.
But I was moved by what I heard. I know the professors on the panel, and they are a diverse group of people who have many different perspectives on many different topics. Still, they universally agreed, with Pope Francis, on the urgent need for action to save the Earth.
And, for the record, Pope Francis believes in global warming. Granted, it’s a reality whether he believes it or not—but it is refreshing that a major Christian leader isn’t among the science deniers who are all too common. A few days ago, a faculty member asked me, as a practicing Catholic, how I felt about the Pope speaking out on science. I hemmed and hawed a bit, but I have not read the encyclical.
After the Aquinas program, I feel I should read it. The taste I got was pretty powerful and beautiful. And one attractive point happens to coincide with an idea I’ve long held without hearing it articulated—that appreciation of the Earth’s beauty is one key to the movement to be more respectful of the earth.planet.
Cross used this quote from Pope Francis: “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 without scruple.”
The Earth—love it or leave it. And, I don’t recall which panelist made the point, but one quote put me in mind of Ash Wednesday. One reason we should love the Earth is, as the panelist said, we literally are part of it. Or, as a priest says when he puts ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
You can be depressed by that thought. Or you can see the beauty in it. Science teaches that we are bits of cosmic dust, brought here from deep space by ancient comets, and come to life. Pope Francis urges us to recognize what is lovely and lovable in that.
So how do I feel when Pope Francis talks science? It’s like an earthworm. It’s beautiful.