Laudato Si and My Baby Sister
The All-Encompassing Call of Love
The beeps and whirs of surrounding machines and that too-clean smell of the hospital room washed over me as I held my newborn sister for the very first time: my parents’ fifth child and first girl. My mother observed how beautiful it was that we were all present, together as a family, to share in her first moments in the world.
Her words made me realize, for what felt like the first time, that not all babies receive love like ours was at that very moment—everyone cooing at her, holding her as though she might break if we weren’t gentle enough, wondering about a name—because many babies are lost to a terrible and grisly reality: abortion.
It is simply impossible to deny that abortion ends a life—the life of a tiny human being in the earliest stages of development. Those on the radical Left have finally come around from their stance of anti-science zealotry immediately post-Roe: that abortion removes “just a clump of cells”; indeed, pro-aborts now cry, “So what if abortion ends life?”
Pope Francis’ now-weeks-old encyclical, Laudato Si’, has been widely celebrated and criticized. There is, I think, a powerful message for the human race within the voluminous address that ultimately has very little to do with what many in the commentariat have focused on, i.e., the environment. (“Climate change” constitutes an almost negligible portion of the encyclical.) The concept of “deification,” or the improper attribution of divinity or aspects of divinity where none exists, is where our focus should be.
In the encyclical, Pope Francis specifically aims his attack on “deified markets,” which damage “whatever is fragile” in their path. The Holy Father is focused on the destruction of the environment at the hands of these so-called “deified markets”—when economic institutions are put in place that seek profit over and against the dignity due to laborers. He correctly identifies the tendency of our markets, indeed, for all created things, to become so elevated, becoming “ends in themselves,” instead of mere means: at the service of humanity. This can be more widely applied to the much weightier realm of morality and the human drama: the “deification of the Self.”
I am continually amazed by my parents’ willingness to take on the responsibility of raising yet another child. I have seen my mother give more of herself than I believed it was possible to give: waking up at all hours of the night to feed the baby (Izzy needs to eat every two hours), changing her, bathing her, and simply being attendant to her—loving her—at all times and with all her strength. She truly gives all of herself to a child who simply takes and offers nothing in return that our numbers-driven, results-oriented, you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours culture would deem “valuable” in a strict sense.
Secondarily, however, to this decision to open themselves up to receive yet another human being into their midst—one totally dependent upon them and in need of vast dedications of their time, resources, and affection in order to grow into a morally mature and rational adult capable of that very same self-giving—are the logistics and raw capability of my family to undertake this material venture at all. We are not wealthy by any means, yet, my parents made the decision—in response to a call from God they undoubtedly felt deep within their souls—to allow their capacity to love to expand yet further.
This is the fatal flaw in our world: We have forgotten how to love anything but ourselves, our own dreams, our own pleasures. We are narcissists through and through. We have deified ourselves in the name of the liberal pursuit of expressive individualism. No law or authority—be they human or divine—have the right to transgress or supersede our right to have what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. (Nowhere is this more apparent than in McDonald’s decision to offer breakfast at any time of the day beginning October 6th. I kid; I kid.)
Yet, somewhat paradoxically, we look outside ourselves more than ever before—not to find a transcendent meaning or order or purpose to our existence—but to distract ourselves from the glaring flaw in our shaky metaphysical facade: We are not God. Merely rejecting God has not freed us (as some ardently desired) from the innately human desire to worship: sSo now, we worship ourselves, our own vanities, ideologies, and projects. People like Caitlyn Jenner—i.e., quasi-worship fodder for people with an atrophied “supernatural detector”—are held up as shining, morally praiseworthy totems for their so-called “bravery.” And thus we fall victim to playing God; hence, the desire of some animal- and environmental-rights activists to elevate non-personal beings and entities to the status of human beings. We have succumbed to the two oldest sins: pride (which damned Lucifer) and idolatry (which turned out quite poorly for the Israelites each and every time they fell to it if we will recall the Pentateuch).
But, not merely content to worship ourselves and simultaneously (nonsensically) not ourselves, we have decided that everything, even reality itself, must bend to our will. I myself, in my own unique human brokenness, have succumbed to the glitz and glamour of the world as well. In ways both knowingly and unknowingly, I have perpetuated the commodification of the human persons. I often dehumanize others in my thoughts and in my words. Very, very often (too often), through a deadly spiritual slothfulness, I neglect my duty toward my God in forgoing prayer for wholly insufficient reasons: tiredness, lack of enthusiasm, despair. These mundane and very common slights and evils, however, lay the groundwork for more terrible evils; what springs to mind at this moment is the horror of Planned Parenthood’s selling our mutilated unborn’s body parts, as though they haven’t been defiled enough on the profane Altar of Secularism.
All of this to say: We live, in Francis’ words, in a throwaway culture. Just as the economy of grace requires fuel to continue its work—mercy, love, prudence, self-sacrifice—so too does the economy of the Self, and terrible are its fuel sources! Selfishness overtakes selflessness; lust swallows love; grace is shunted aside for immediate gratification. A truly human and humane culture—built upon community rooted in a reverence for the Divine—has been usurped and replaced by a Culture of the Self, which is built upon a pipe dream of the power-hungry for total dominion of everything, actualized in the profligate evils of the twenty-first century.
Watching my baby sister grow and develop has truly been a blessing. (She has started to respond to the sound of our voices; she smiles a lot; laughs; and just recently flipped over from her tummy to her back all by herself!) I can more intimately sympathize (almost an empathy, though I am not her parent) with my parents. I can see much more clearly why they “obsess” over our well-being, constantly check in with all of us, offer unsolicited advice, and raise their voices at times: It is all done out of love. Gazing upon my sister, I know that no matter how old she becomes, I will always be able to think back on these first 12 weeks of her life, and I will always see that baby. I will always feel the desire to comfort her and the need to protect her and be sure she is safe and well-cared for. As a sibling, I can only make passing forays into my parents’ reality. Their love must be cavernous.
This is the paradox of love and of the Christian call: The more we love, the more we are able to love. Love is not a finite resource within us that is steadily depleted each time we tap into it. It does not dry up or become expended, like gasoline in an automobile. No, with evermore realizations of acts of true love—genuine self-giving and willing the good of another—our ability and frequency to love increases. I, who am not even a parent yet, feel this phenomenon within myself toward my youngest sibling, totally new to the earth, and it is wonderful.
If I know anything, I know that my sister is worth fighting for. So I will do just that: Fight.
Image courtesy of the Catholic Church of England and Wales.