The “Doctrine of Discovery”, issued by Pope Alexander VI in the year 1493, states that Christians may take the land and possessions of all peoples on all continents who are not Christians. It has never been revoked. It was incorporated into U.S. law in 1823 which stated that “Indians had lost their rights to complete sovereignty as independent nations.” It was used negatively in U.S. courts as late as 1970 in dealing with rights of Native American tribes. Later this year, while Pope Francis is in the US, he will be asked to rescind the doctrine.
This matter will fit in with the whole spirit and content of the Pope’s encyclical, “Laudato Si”. The 180-page volume will engross people’s attention for quite a while. It begins with reflections on “Sister Earth”. Then follow references to climate change, water supplies, biodiversity and the environment. Next come questions about the harmony between Creator, humanity and creation. There follows the denial of the doctrine of the “infinite, unending supply of earth’s goods”. Further come questions about the crises which are both social and environmental and the need for integral ecology. Solutions must be based on dialog among international, national and local communities. Francis suggests we need new convictions, attitudes, forms of life and lifestyle. To work over the contents of the whole encyclical will take huge amounts of time, energy and willingness to follow through with necessary changes.
Jeremiah is the most famous prophet, known for his “lamentations”. He was a leader who lived and worked with his people who were not following in the basic direction of keeping God’s law. His taking on his role as a “shepherd leader” does not grab us “city dwellers” as very understandable. But Jeremiah in his time is challenging us to follow in the spirit of this encyclical in our time. Psalm 23 is the warm, traditional expression of where to look for leadership, understanding, acceptance and loving care.
In the second reading we have St. Paul offering the framework for taking on the challenge of the present encyclical. This again requires understanding and accepting the need for personal and social change.
Finally, in the gospel, Jesus opens the way for us to be able to deal with the tragic occurrences of the past days and weeks, be they in our area, our country, our continent. War, violence, military might, use of weaponry, availability of money and other forms of wealth of all kinds are not answers to solve problems and disagreements by people of all ages and places. To these ideas, Psalm 23, parts of which we prayed earlier, offers us a beacon of hope to which we can look as we continue to learn about, help with and share the goods of this earth of ours. Amen.