Invitation to authenticity

October 30th, 2015

Invitation to authenticity

In the first of a three-part series on Laudato Si’, Fr. Damian Howard SJ (Superior of the Hurtado Jesuit Community in Wapping and lecturer at Heythrop College) provided an introduction to Pope Francis’ encyclical letter as we considered the impact humans have had on our planet. As a dominant species,we have made huge strides with technological innovations, advanced economies and sophisticated socio-cultural-political institutions.

But many are left marginalized or live dealing with the negative consequences: the environment, endangered species, vulnerable people and societies and the future generations – with pollution, overexploitation, consumerism and political turmoil due to the overdependence on these tools. These practices feed into a cycle that affects our relationship with others, possessions, environment and God.

It is no surprise this can trigger several reactions. Some (perhaps a minority for now?) bank on finding another planet to live in, should Earth becomes inhabitable. Others would suggest ‘turning back the clock’, to a simpler period when these problems did not exist. But the most common reaction is Do Nothing. Given that these problems are global, ever deepening and with complexities no one truly understands, any managed change may lead to unintended, negative consequences on prosperity, livelihoods, or simply be ineffective.

Interconnectedness is a central theme in the letter. During group discussions, many asked, “How do you affect change in a modern world that is so complex?”, “Can we predict the consequences?”, “Will our actions cause a brief ripple or a sustained wave?” One surprise from Laudato Si’ is that change comes from conditioning the human heart. How we do relate to ourselves, others, environment and God? Is this what is meant by the human ecology? These links place us and the values, practice and expectations we have in them. No single group or species can sustain or define the whole ecosystem; all are susceptible to fragile relational threads.

Pope Francis asks us to strive for authenticity. We resonate with anyone(or anything) who is ‘authentic’. Yet this is a difficult connotation. With modernity, liberation, and the many existing opportunities, we are often encouraged to be free thinkers, capable and flexible of real thought and actions. In truth, we are more often like fishes that stickwith the shoal. Moving collectively ensures not only security but also has fairness and cultural identity intertwined. Yet society practices can unite or divide communities – think of the current debates on climate change, migration, debt inequalities, social issues, etc.

Yet a different definition of authenticity from Catholic Social Teaching is one of openness – to experiences and encounters of others, the environment and God that is dignified, compassionate and progresses along a moral, social and spiritual direction. Laudato Si’ speaks of this being a process, a journey. Only hope can sustain a period of managed change (and expectations) that is radical, multidimensional and holistic, and that will be inevitably slow. As social beings behavior matters as it is often imitated. If widely emulated and shown to be good and true, they become effective and sustained drivers of growth from within. God willing.

Julian Ng is a volunteer with the Hurtado Jesuit Centre