This column is a continuation from last week’s reflection by Gabe Huck entitled Over the Bent World, At Pentecost, the Spirit broods. In this part of Huck’s reflection Gabe suggested that the “through my fault” of the Confiteor at the beginning of mass is inadequate to let us grasp how sin and evil happen in this bent world. If we speak of “fault” and of our responsibility for evil done today we must speak of “our fault.”
Can we look again and see evil, sin, for which no single one of us is alone responsible? Failing in this, we do not name these pervasive evils as sin, do not take responsibility, do not relate them to the commitment of our baptism to renounce evil, do not relate them to our Gospel faith. “It’s not my fault that African Americans are in prison out of all proportion to anything.” “Is it my fault that Christians and Muslims in Africa are killing each other?” Is it my fault that those Iraqis are still dying from the depleted uranium we used all over their country?” No, it is not my fault. But is it our fault? Do we do evil and consent to evil together as well as alone? This seems obvious.
…there is another phrase of the Confiteor that is insightful: “in what I have done and failed to do”…Certainly we always taught about sins of omission, but somehow the ritual acknowledgement of this in the Confiteor didn’t take hold of us: How do we free ourselves, as we must, to understand and agonize over the evil done today to the world’s people and to nature itself? Then how do we understand responsibility for what we have failed to do? Sin and evil go far beyond the lies I tell, the poison I spread, the economic decisions I make, the killing I do myself. And sin and evil are far more than the killing I could have stopped all by myself and didn’t, the fossil fuels I personally could have not burned, the laws I personally could have made or changed but I didn’t.
What makes this so difficult to accept? A lot. Little in our dominant American culture supports such an understanding of responsibility being shared; little supports a notion that our shared responsibility extends beyond what evil we do individually. Does our sin, our evil, include that evil we could oppose but do not, that evil we do not seek to lessen or end? We make baby steps when we deal with collections of money for victims of wars and famines, but even here we want to think about this generosity rather than our responsibility. And we seldom are willing to see that we are in this failure together.
In Islam there is something like this: The believer is to “prevent evil.” I found helpful what Cornel West said recently in a talk about the legacy of Dorothy Day.
She knew that indifference to evil is more evil than evil itself. It becomes a way of life, a hardening of the heart and a coarsening of the conscience, a chilling of the soul and a turning away from the vulnerable, the despised, and the weak. Indifference is the one trait that makes the very angels weep.
Wouldn’t we want to see our church shake off such indifference to evil?
This is how the Spirit broods over the bent world. In us. In the Pentecost sequence we realize that it is not simply ourselves calling out to the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit calling out to us, to the church, to the bent world:
Scrub the stains and rain on the dry. Mend what’s ripped but shake what’s stiff. Melt the frozen and raise up the broken.
Gabe Huck thinks the way we come to this deeper understanding of our sin is by a deeper understanding of scripture and an openness to different thinkers, writers and artists. Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel that some of us studied during Lent is an example of such thinkers.
In next week’s column I put the sequence for Pentecost in my column. I encourage you to read it and understand what we are asking of the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit is asking of us.
Thanks to Fr. Jim Healy for presiding at masses this Sunday. I am off to a family reunion. See you next week.