Reflection: 2nd September 2018

A Reflection for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

MK 7: 1-8; 14-15; 21-23 ( )

Since the Second Vatican Council many Church documents have been referring to the reality of ‘Social Sin’ in our lives and in our globalised world. Nevertheless, it seems that many people find it difficult to grasp its meaning and how it helps to facilitate and/or coerce undesirable behaviour in individuals. A definition might be helpful.

Individual sin is a selfish choice made by one person from which destructive consequences flow immediately and directly. An example is: if I decide to punch someone who angers me. The selfish decision is my opting to harm another rather than controlling myself.  The harm to my ‘neighbour’ flows as a direct and immediate result of my selfish decision.

Social Sin is more complex. It is the result of thousands or even millions of different selfish choices by as many different people. The destructive consequences flow indirectly and as a cumulative result of all the different selfish choices. ‘Poverty’ is perhaps the best example. We contribute to the social sin of poverty each time we choose to buy: a €4 cup of tea or coffee rather than donate to a food bank; a sofa which we do not really need; a pack of cigarettes rather than donating to a charity clinic; or when we choose to purchase from corporations who pay sub-standard wages, Moreover, social sin is often the result of selfish omissions rather than selfish acts.  Our contribution to social sin is no less sinful than our individual misdeeds. Indeed, as the sum of countless selfish actions and omissions, it is more destructive and damaging than individual sin. Other examples of social sin on a far larger scale and which destroy people, and waste resources include arms manufacture, war, human trafficking and homelessness. (There are 65 million refugees in our world, some fleeing war, others seeking food or healthcare. Much of their suffering and misery is caused by heartless people.)

Probably the most worrying of all are the countless sins committed every day which are slowly destroying our environment and our planet earth, “our common home” as Pope Francis called it in his encyclical, Laudato si’.

Today’s first reading from Deuteronomy reminds us that God has given us laws to live by so that we may have life and live well, while the psalm tells us how the just person should live:

Walk without fault Act with justice

Speak the truth from your heart Do no wrong to your brother or sister

Cast no slur on your neighbour Hold the godless in disdain

Take no interest on a loan Accept no bribes against the innocent

In the second reading, St. James, talking of the weakest and most vulnerable groups in society, tells us that “Pure unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world”. 

Finally, today’s Gospel reminds us that “It is from within, from men’s hearts that evil intentions emerge”, that the human heart, capable of such noble sentiments and deeds can also be the source of so much evil.  

Paddy Donovan C.S.Sp. – Fr. Paddy was ordained in 1963 and appointed to Brazil where he ministered from 1965 until the early 1980s. He subsequently served in Ireland and the US, and is currently resident in Kimmage Manor where he maintains an active interest in issues of Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation (JPIC).