In the 1200s, Francis of Assisi made people feel uncomfortable about their lavish lifestyles and disregard for the poor. He got into much trouble for his prophetic lifestyle. Eventually, he was lauded for his beautiful model of voluntary poverty and his love for all creation as brother and sister.
Today, his influence seems confined to a lawn ornament.
In the 1970s, imbued by the same sense of love for the poor and creation, many Christians raised issues of social justice and the destruction of Earth. Countless church-basement prophets worked tirelessly to form ecumenical coalitions for justice to counter the injustices suffered by our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, Latin America and here in Canada. It was then that liberation theologian Leonardo Boff penned the words, “the cry of the Earth, cry of the poor.”
As the decades progressed, it became increasingly difficult to sustain the prophetic voice of public justice within church structures, as too many Christians and their leadership, were uncomfortable with their messages.
In 2013, Pope Francis rekindled our collective hearts and imaginations by naming himself after St. Francis of Assisi (the first pope to do so). His Encyclical Laudato Sí begins: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us… This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her. …” Pope Francis, like his namesake, makes many Catholics feel uncomfortable about their destructive lifestyles and disregard for the poor.
For some time now, criticisms from various factions within our church and its leadership have mounted (Fortunately, or perhaps not surprisingly, Pope Francis sees this as a badge of honour).
Last month, on September 23, in New York, Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg continues to make us feel uncomfortable about the cries of Earth and the cries of the poor, declaring at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
How dare we indeed! Yet, for some time now, too many people have been challenging Greta’s motives, her sincerity, and even the (very accurate) science she repeats to support her claims.
In John 16:1, Jesus seems to be warning us of the backlash we will receive when we speak up for and with the poor and creation: “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”
It’s human to feel uncomfortable (I know I do); it’s dishonest and wrong, though, to disregard the uncomfortable prophetic words.
To all the persecuted prophets today, I uphold,
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5: 10-12).