Pope Francis’ highly-anticipated environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praised Be to You) is hot off the press!

In case you haven’t had the chance to read all 184 pages of the new encyclical yet, we’ve come up with five steps you can take to follow what’s being called the #LaudatoWay – little steps we can all take to changing our ecological lifestyles. It’s named after St. Therese and her “Little Way”, which Pope Francis mentions in para. 230 of the encyclical, and to whom he has a special devotion!

I invite everyone to receive this new document with an open heart..." - Pope Francis to his Wednesday General Audience on June 17, 2015. Photo Credit: Bohumil Petrik

I invite everyone to receive this new document with an open heart…” – Pope Francis to his Wednesday General Audience on June 17, 2015. Photo Credit: Bohumil Petrik

1. Pray for a conversion of heart. 

Not surprisingly, our appreciation of and care for the environment must stem from our relationship with God, which is established through prayer.

As Pope Benedict XVI, quoted by Pope Francis in para. 217 of “Laudato Si”, explained in 2005: “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast”.

“For this reason,” Pope Francis continues, “the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of real- ism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ 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; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

This prayer life doesn’t have to be complicated. In para. 227, Pope Francis explains that this conversion of heart can happen through prayers as simple as the prayer before meals:

“One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.”

Someone once challenged me to say grace before meals ALWAYS – whether I was eating a banana for breakfast in the car on my way to work, or having lunch with friends in a crowded restaurant – and it changed my life. Pope Francis has just reiterated that call – challenge accepted.

2. Learn to appreciate beauty. 

This might sound overly simple, but learning to appreciate the beauty in our world around us – whether in another person or in a beautiful mountain sunset – is a profound step in our conversion of heart that helps us to appreciate creation as gift from God.

As Pope Francis explains in para. 215: “By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. 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 and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour.”

What’s one practical way you can learn to appreciate beauty? Spend more time in (silent) nature! This is one of my parish priests’ favorite penances to give after confession. Spending time in the beauty of God’s creation calms our hearts, calls us out of ourselves, and reminds us of His glory. (P.S. It doesn’t count if you have your headphones in the whole time.)

Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment. An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered” (para. 225)

Glacier National Park sunset. Credit: Bradley Davis via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Glacier National Park sunset. Credit: Bradley Davis via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

3. Practice gratitude and selflessness in the family. 

According to Pope Francis, the seeds of abuse of God’s creation and the environment are man’s own selfishness and greed. The best place to correct these sinful desires and to learn virtue is in the family, which he explains in para. 213:

“…I would stress the great importance of the family, which is ‘the place in which life – the gift of God – can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.’**

In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enables us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings.”

**Quote from St. John Paul II's Encyclical Letter "Centesimus Annus". Photo credit: L'Osservatore Romano

**Quote from St. John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter “Centesimus Annus”. Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano

4. Change the way you consume products. 

We as consumers have power. If we change the way we consume things, businesses will be forced to pay attention. If we as a Church, for example, stop shopping on Sundays, or stop buying unethically produced clothing, businesses will have to respond to those changes.

Pope Francis explains in para. 206:

A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act”. Today, in a word, “the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle”.

Want to know more about what it means to be a better Catholic consumer? A few months ago, I blogged about consumerism and Catholicism after listening to a talk by the priests from “Catholic Stuff You Should Know” podcast. They also recommended the book “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.”

Bonus of not being a consumer: Avoiding the mall at Christmastime.

Bonus of not being a consumer: Avoiding this whenever possible.

5. Simplify your life – use only what you need. 

 Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Pope Francis asks that even those who can afford more to be prudent with their lifestyle choices and to learn to find joy in the simple life.

In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have… Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. (para. 223)

Some practical tips Pope Francis gives for simplifying your life with the environment in mind: using less heat and wearing warmer clothes, avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. (para. 211)

“There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions,” Pope Francis wrote. “…All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings.” (para.211)

As a bishop and Cardinal, Pope Francis rode the subway in Buenos Aires almost every day. Credit: n i f via Flickr_(CC BY-ND 2.0)

As a bishop and Cardinal, Pope Francis rode the subway in Buenos Aires almost every day. Credit: n i f via Flickr_(CC BY-ND 2.0)

What steps are you going to take in your own life to follow the #LaudatoWay?

Updated: 6/18/2015 at 10:00 a.m.