The words kept recycling. Care for others ... care for creation ... care for others ... care for creation...The homily of Pope Francis at his installation Mass this morning stunned me first into disbelief, then into self-reflection, then into joy and hope. Even if he had not already told us which namesake he chose, today there would be no doubt. This opening homily was St. Francis redivivus!

Building off the image of St. Joseph as a "protector," through "unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand," Pope Francis elaborated the vocation of the protector:

The vocation of being a protector, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of Gods creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of Gods gifts!

It's not as if this message, which connects care for others, care for families, and the preferential option for the poor to the necessity of our care for the environment, has been absent from Catholic ethics. In fact, it was signaled already by Bl. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae and Centesimus Annus, and then Pope Benedict XVI treated this theme frequently in his writings, especially Caritas in Veritate and his Messages for the World Day of Peace.

Over the weekend on MSNBC, I myself expressed hope for a focus on this connection after hearing the comments at Pope Francis's first press conference.

But never has the theme taken center stage as it did today. Care for creation or the environment was mentioned at least ten times (by my count) in a relatively short homily. It even spurred the primary exhortation of the homily:

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of Gods plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!

In the spirit of Jesus and St. Paul, the Pope then resounded perhaps the most foundational paradox of Christian ethics: "authentic power is service." Only this stance will "open up a horizon of hope." 

(N.B. quotes come from the Vatican Radio transcript, and have not been checked against the audio/video feed)

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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