Friday, 3 May 2019

Measuring sinfulness

The editorial in the May 2019 issue of Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick and Killaloe.
Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament

Is it possible to measure sins on an ascending scale of sinfulness? Roman Catholics distinguish between mortal sins – causing a complete separation from God, and resulting in eternal damnation if unrepented - and venial sins – less grave offences that injure relationship with God, but do not break it, peccadilloes we should try our best to avoid.

We have seen heinous acts of evil in recent days. The New IRA and Saoradh instigated riots in Derry, culminating in reckless shots which killed the young journalist Lyra McKee. On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers claiming allegiance to Islamic State attacked churches and tourist hotels across Sri Lanka, leaving at least 359 dead and more than 500 injured. These were grave sins, but can we - should we – rate one of them as worse than the other?

If sins can be rated, then surely our communal failure to respond as we ought to climate change must be a greater sin than these. We now know that greedy human abuse of the earth’s resources is destroying God’s good creation. Scientists have been telling us for years what to expect, and we now see it with our own eyes: more frequent storms, floods and droughts; rising sea levels; collapse of wild life populations and species extinction. While individuals can take small steps, we need global action by governments to save our planet from catastrophe.

16-year-old Greta Thunberg has inspired the global ‘Climate Strike’ movement by school students -including many in Limerick City – calling for urgent action on behalf of future generations. The ‘Extinction Rebellion’ movement has brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets in acts of non-violent civil disobedience, calling for the emergency action required to protect our planet. They are asking the rest of us to stand up and demand action from governments. We owe them all a debt of gratitude for alerting us to our complicity in the sin of damaging God’s good creation.

I have my doubts about the reality of a hierarchy of sin. But it is surely true that the graver the sin the harder it is for the sinner to repent – that is, to make the fundamental change in thinking and behaviour which is a prerequisite for God’s forgiveness. Let us pray for the strength we need.

God bless,
Joc Sanders, Editor

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