Since the publication of Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato Si” I have been thinking about how best to spell out this beautiful text for liturgical and devotional practices. Some of this is easily done, since the Pope offers his own examples (especially in the section on “Sacramental Signs and the Celebration of Rest”): pray before meals; go forward singing; commit to Sunday as a day of rest; appreciate the sacraments as “a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God” (# 235).
But of course there is so much more, and I invite all of us to help spell out “Laudato Si” for the world of liturgy and life. Here is one first example, related to contemporary burial practices (and no, this is not really far-fetched; even St. Francis’s canticle, which gave the encyclical its title, ponders “Sister Death”).
Did you know that a typical American cemetery is a veritable ecological disaster zone? It is filled to the brim with toxic embalming chemicals (used post mortem on human bodies) and contains close to 1,000 tons of casket steel as well as 20,000 tons of vault concrete. Such a cemetery essentially destroys the ecological balance of the land on which it sits. The Green Burial Movement (more info here: http://greenburialcouncil.org/home/what-is-green-burial/) seeks to change this and return us to older and simpler practices of caring for those who have died and of burying the dead. I am deeply committed to these green burial practices (I have a simple pine “shelf-coffin” in my office, for example, that will one day easily transform itself from being a shelf to becoming my coffin, lid included). And I was glad to learn that the Diocese of Albany, NY, for example, has a “Natural Burial Preserve,” that is, undeveloped space, at one of its diocesan cemeteries, for green burials. Apparently, there are by now numerous other green cemeteries in the U.S. that not only allow for natural burials but also skip pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in the burial ground’s upkeep. Given that I work hard at keeping my carbon footprint low as I journey through life, I am delighted that I will be able to keep my carbon footprint low once I have died.
I thus welcome Pope Francis’s “Laudato Si” not least because I hope that we can have sustained conversations about the changes we have to make in our everyday lives as well as our liturgical and devotional practices in order to respond to the ecological emergency we live in.