Social sin

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The first reading on this fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is taken from the book of the prophet Amos, who has been called by many authors and Biblical scholars the prophet of social justice.

Biblical prophets come from many different walks of life and trades. We learn in the passage proclaimed this Sunday that Amos was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The primary task of the Biblical prophets is to call the people of God back to Him, to lead them down a path of conversion, repentance and salvation, to open their hearts to grace.

Last week we considered grace, the love and life of God that is freely and lavishly offered to us so that we can persevere in every good deed and participate to the fullest possible extent in divine life. Of course, our participation in divine life began when our existence began in our mothers´ womb and will be brought to fulfillment when, through the grace of God, we hope to be admitted to the communion of saints for all eternity. As we journey through life, the Lord offers us the assistance of grace to do good and to deepen our communion with Him. In the mysterious interaction that takes place between our human freedom, another gift we received from God, and the grace that is offered it is possible that we reject it and do what is objectively evil, sin is always a possibility in our lives.

Paradoxically, we can sin because of our free will, but sin destroys our freedom, making us slaves to our miseries, to our passions, and even to the Evil one.

Sin is always an action that goes against human history and the history of salvation, because it goes against the grace of God that suffuses and animates the entire universe. It is always personal, but we can say in an analogical sense that there are social sins and even structures of sin.

St. John Paul II explained that “to speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others… In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family…

Some sins, however, by their very matter constitute a direct attack on one’s neighbor and more exactly, in the language of the Gospel, against one’s brother or sister. They are an offense against God because they are offenses against one’s neighbor. These sins are usually called social sins, and this is the second meaning of the term… Likewise, the term social applies to every sin against justice in interpersonal relationships, committed either by the individual against the community or by the community against the individual. Also social is every sin against the rights of the human person, beginning with the right to life and including the life of the unborn or against a person’s physical integrity. Likewise social is every sin against others’ freedom, especially against the supreme freedom to believe in God and adore him; social is every sin against the dignity and honor of one’s neighbor. Also social is every sin against the common good and its exigencies in relation to the whole broad spectrum of the rights and duties of citizens…

The third meaning of social sin refers to the relationships between the various human communities. These relationships are not always in accordance with the plan of God, who intends that there be justice in the world and freedom and peace between individuals, groups and peoples…

Whenever the church speaks of situations of sin or when the condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins…

At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted.”

Amos was sent to call people to conversion so as to remove the cause of social sin in his time. We are also called to conversion and, by virtue of our Baptism, to announce with our lives the love and mercy of God revealed by Christ and in Him, to cooperate in the transformation of the entire universe, including, of course, social relations.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid