The most basic fact about all that exists is that it is all one gift of God. (Image: Pixabay)
As we enter Lent, we reflect on the role of sin in our lives. But we often — maybe generally — look too narrowly at what constitutes sin.
After Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873, the country abandoned the lunar calendar altogether by 1910. So, though the rest of Asia welcomed this year of the tiger on Feb. 1, in Japan the tiger crept in on Jan. 1.
In addition to inaugurating a new zodiac sign each year on Jan. 1, the Japanese moved all the traditional customs of the lunar new year to January. One of those customs is the sounding of temple bells as the new year enters. The bells are struck 108 times because in Buddhist teaching there are 108 earthly desires or temptations and each strike of the bell drives out one of them.
Buddhists clearly have much more creative imagination than Catholics.
Catholic kids generally admit to two sins: disobeying their parents and fighting with their siblings. I suppose an orphaned only child is either sinless or must invent one or two transgressions.
But adults do not seem to find much more than that wrong in their lives. Using the word “morality” or some variant or it around them elicits squirming and crossed legs.
Of course, the reason we limit our consciousness of sin to the private realm is that we place our faith there as well
Apart from sex-related matters, “sin” is often “churchy” — such as failing to say prayers or go to church.
Someone may admit to not being an ideal spouse or parent, but for the most part we limit our guilty consciences to individual private matters rather than social or communal ones.
Of course, the reason we limit our consciousness of sin to the private realm is that we place our faith there as well. There are Christians who are upset by the fact that there are other people at the liturgy when they go to be with Jesus.
They refuse to join the community in song, prayer or posture as they conduct their private tete-a-tete with their Lord. They forget, if they ever knew or cared, that the very word liturgy means “the activity of the people.”
Christianity is always plural. It is a matter of “we and God,” not “me and God.” Even the One with the best right to pray “My Father” when teaching us to pray in his way said, “Pray then in this way: Our Father ...”
Even if we look at faith as a matter of the Church (the People of God, not the management), our individualism still makes us prone to view faith from the wrong angle.
Faith is not about me or even us. Faith is about God. My faith, our faith, the faith are responses to God and if we hope to understand them, we must begin our reflection with God.
If we do that, we take a different view of life, faith, sin and self.
In the first place, we realize that it is thanks to God that we live at all. But if I exist because God in some un-understandable way that we call love chooses to give me existence, then the same must be true of every other existing thing.
The most basic fact about all that exists is that it is all one gift of God. And if that be true of everything, then it is all the more true of our fellow human beings.
Other people, no matter who they are in earthly terms are, just as I, sons and daughters of God. Ultimately, we are not such because of a shared evolutionary history that really carries no implications, but because God has made us so.
We are one, and our relationship with God is one. Abstracting myself from the rest in order to have a relationship with God whether in prayer or repentance is abstracting myself from the only kind of relationship I can actually have with God. My only possible relationship with God is as a member of the family of which God is the life-giver.
When I reflect upon my sins and failings, I must take into account the entire family, not just the one member I see in the mirror. That means that my examination of conscience must include my personal as well as communal involvement in political, economic and social sin.
Do I question myself about racism, bigotry, whether my political choices are really for the common good, failure to protect the environment, my response to the climate crisis, how I make my living, refusal to follow the guidance of experts in the present pandemic, and other such sins that affect or afflict my sisters and brothers, the other children of God?
Besides sins of commission (what I have done) there are sins of omission (what I have failed to do). Especially once we get past the “I disobeyed my parents” phase, they are probably our most common.
So, my Lenten reflection must look beyond myself to see if and how my sin affects others. A good tool for that is the traditional Works of Mercy.
If we approach our examination of conscience in that way, we may find that Buddhists are not all that different from us after all.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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