JP II on Social Sin

In his 1984 Apostolic Exhortation On Reconciliation and Penance, Pope John Paul II wrote these challenging words:

"Whenever the church speaks of situations of sin or when [she] condemns as social sin certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups …. she know and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins, of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate, or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of higher order.  The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals."

Strong words indeed.  The emphasis is mine, because that is the section that describes the challenge for each of us, myself included.  How do we live ethical, moral lives for the common good in our everyday actions when we knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly, participate through our everyday personal actions in social systems that promote violence, poverty, oppression, and the very destruction of the planet we call home.

Take the reality of human induced climate change.  The New York Times recently reported that last year was the hottest year on record in the U.S.
Assuming that prediction holds up, it will mean that the 10 warmest years on record all fell within the past 15 years, a measure of how much the planet has warmed. Nobody who is under 28 has lived through a month of global temperatures that fell below the 20th-century average, because the last such month was February 1985. 

Now, we can just throw up our hands and say it's too big of a problem to do anything about it.  We can "take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world."  We can "fail [to take action in support of our planetary home] out of laziness ... or indifference."  But if we do so, we need to call it what it is ... our personal involvement through sins of commission and omission in social sin.

The purpose of this blog post is not to depress us.  The purpose of this blog post is to remind us that the opposite is true.

  • We can take refuge in our actions, no matter how small, that are intended to promote life.
  • We can take refuge in our belief that God is with us and calls us to be guardians of creation, caretakers of the future of the human and earth community.
  • We can rise to the challenge to overcome laziness, to counteract indifference, to do everything in our power within our own spheres of influence avoid, eliminate, or at least limit the social evils that lead to human induced climate change, to poverty, to violence and war.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to no less.  And in the end, our very survival may depend upon it.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I don't know if you noticed, but yesterday's gospel--at least the translation used by the USCCB--said to preach the gospel to every creature. So not every person, but every creature. There's a powerful reflection in there about evangelical environmentalism.