By Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., President, AJCU
It’s not just that the Pope is a Jesuit. After all, the call to human stewardship of the earth is as ancient as the Garden of Eden. But, when the Pope IS a Jesuit, there is a certain enthusiasm and affinity of understanding that flow from the common bond of all – be they lay or Jesuit -- who have made the Spiritual Exercises. Look at the beginning and the end of the Exercises. In the “First Principle and Foundation,” we learn that all of Creation is to be utilized only insofar as it helps us get to God. In the “Contemplatio ad Amorem,” we see God not just at work in His creation, but also conserving it and expressing Himself in the life and beauty of the natural world.
The call of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’ (Latin for “Praise Be to You”), continues a theme of recent Popes. But the peculiar suasiveness of the document for men and women schooled in the Ignatian tradition comes from the very way of thinking that one learns by making the Exercises.
Just read the articles in this issue of Connections and you’ll see what I mean. Faculty, staff, students and alumni at school after Jesuit school feel compelled to express in their initiatives the vision made so compelling by Francis in Laudato Si’. These articles are only a few examples.
The Laudato Si’ response goes beyond the on-campus initiatives described in these articles. AJCU and a number of Jesuit colleges and universities recently endorsed an amicus curiae brief from the Catholic Coalition for Climate Change backing the attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise its legal obligations to require lowered carbon emissions from old electric power plants. We salute Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who are, respectively, Chair and Ranking Minority of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, for introducing their proposed legislation, S. 2012, which would give $20,000 grants to charitable entities (including schools) to help with insulating old buildings, replacing inefficient windows, and converting heating and cooling units so that these facilities will be less damaging to the planet. In many cases, this means the charity could lower its carbon footprint without needing to divert so much of the money it raises for the poor, and schools wouldn’t be tempted to lower financial aid in order to make facilities more green. This legislation responds to the words of Francis in Laudato Si’ when he speaks of “encouraging the…repair of buildings aimed at reducing their energy consumption and levels of pollution” (Laudato Si’, para. 180.).
If you go very deep into St. Ignatius Loyola’s worldview, you realize that God made a good but imperfect world, then left it to His human creatures to take it the next step along its way to completeness. This is Ignatius, this is Teilhard, this is Francis. In greening God’s world, just as in looking out for humans on society’s margins, we become God’s Co-creators. It’s in making a better world that we find our holiness. That’s the vocation common to all who are Jesuit educated.