Sin is of many colours
Donal Dorr, a priest expert on the relationship between the spiritual life and social justice, draws attention to three different relationships which each of us has: with God, with people around us, and with society.
Dorr quotes the Prophet Micah who writes: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindly, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6,8).
Each of these relationships demands of us a conversion. “To walk humbly with our God” we need a religious conversion, accepting God as the Lord of our life and getting rid of all false gods which, often, include our very self. “Loving kindly” demands a moral conversion, not only respecting the dignity and rights of our neighbours but also being generous towards them in their needs.
Some are not sure about God. They feel that, even without God, they can still lovingly create a happy human community. This is the basis of secularism. History has shown otherwise. Rationalism promised to bring us happiness by doing away with God and simply letting the rational mind come to its own conclusions about right living.
As Romano Guardini remarked, Rationalism’s main contribution consisted of two world wars.
The third relationship is one we very rarely talk about. It is our relationship with society. We are not just a bunch of people who happen to be living at the same time; we are organised into a society that has rules, which depends on interdependence for its existence and which prescribes rights and duties.
This relationship demands of us a political conversion or a review of our relationship with society.
Unfortunately, this aspect is not being stressed enough in the moral teaching of the Church. The Church often speaks about our duty to be charitable towards those in need and, over the years, the Church itself has been committed to charity work through institutions and in other ways even long before governments began to assume their responsibilities in these matters.
However, when it comes to justice, there is shyness. It is true that during the past century the popes wrote great encyclicals on the subject but, in most cases, these deal with the principles of ownership, labour, capital and so on.
This is a very important aspect of justice and has contributed towards a culture that respects the dignity and rights of the weakest. Yet, even this teaching of the Church has not been promulgated enough to reach the grassroots. The authors of a book on the social teaching of the Church were so struck by the silence of the Church on this topic that they decided to call their book: The Church’s Best Kept Secret.
Society is more than capital and labour. It is like a family that will stand or fall depending on whether all are pulling the same rope. Especially in societies, like ours, where the welfare state is strong, the duties of each member of society towards the rest can hardly be stressed enough.
So, the nitty-gritty of everyday living, which includes the sacrosanct duty of giving a day’s work for a day’s pay, paying taxes, not wasting or destroying our resources, not claiming excessive salaries, not practising favours, also needs to be stressed.
Lately, we have all been following the economic difficulties of Greece. It has been said that those problems were of the Greeks’ own making because of their exaggeratedly high salaries and pensions and because the people avoided paying taxes.
I cannot tell whether this was the sole contributor to Greece’s economic disaster but, at least as far as paying taxes and not always earning our pay, we may not be far behind. Greece may not be the only place where the VAT receipt is becoming a collectors’ item.
And yet this is hardly ever denounced. Not many Sunday homilies confront this subject. Nor do we hear many official Church pronouncements on these duties.
This too is sin! The Church would acquire more credibility if it were less selective in its prophetic message.