While there is a lot of good that we can still find in the world, I think we would all agree that we seem to be getting more than our share of bad right now. In the United States alone we have: the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan, the delta variant, hyper-partisanship from our leaders, an immigration crisis, growing crime rates in our major cities, and everyone is pretty much angry with everyone else most of the time. Not a pretty picture.
The modern-era Popes have warned us that these bad things are symptoms of a deeper root issue that we must first address if we ever hope to see an improvement. In a series of encyclicals—beginning with Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum in 1891 and commonly called “Catholic Social Teaching”—they have attempted to identify what Pope St. John Paul II called “Structures of Sin” and then encouraged civil and corporate leaders, and all men and women of good will, to work to dismantle them.
A Structure of Sin is a social system that creates, preserves, and/or exacerbates some form of human injustice. For example, systemic government corruption in Central America has created huge economic disparities, forcing the poor and destitute to seek an alternative; that is leaving their homeland and showing up at our border.
Many pundits place the blame for the existence of these systems on one ideology or another, such as Capitalism or Marxism. And while ideologies and broken philosophies certainly contribute to these systemic injustices, the Popes consistently insist that it goes much deeper, and they identify the real root cause of the problems and its antidote.
The real root cause of these problems is personal sin. the remedy is personal holiness.
In other words, evil and sin do not exist separate from the human person. Jesus confirms this in Sunday’s Gospel: “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mk 7:21-23). Structures of Sin then, do not just spontaneously appear. They exist because sinful human beings band-together and collaborate to create and preserve them.
To dismantle them requires a people who are virtuous and honest; a people who understand and strive for the “Common Good” because they, themselves, are “good.” Now, since “no one is good but God alone” (Mk 10:18), it follows that these people need to be “God-like”; they need to be Holy. It comes as no surprise then, that the first few chapters of every one of these encyclicals exhort us to the universal call to holiness (Mt 5:48; Gen 17:1; LG 40) and tell us how to strive for it.
But what is holy? Jesus Christ is holy. The universal call to holiness is nothing less than the admonition that we must strive to be “Christ-bearers” to the world. Bringing Christ to every corner of the world is how we defeat evil and make our society more just.
So, what do the Popes recommend for achieving this holiness? Well, the most perfect way is to worthily (e.g., properly disposed, and attentively) receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion often. We are, after all, what we eat. Another method is to practice being informed, prayerful, and socially engaged Catholics; living out our lives ordered by the Ten Commandments and the Church’s moral teachings and strengthening our willpower by going to Confession regularly. Yet a third, excellent method they recommend is imitation. Specifically, learning and imitating the virtues of our Blessed Mother, Mary.
Of all the methods mentioned, this last one is probably the most difficult for us moderns to take seriously. Unfortunately, many Marian devotions can feel sappy and old-fashioned. Filled as they are redundant prayers and overly sweet images of puffy clouds, pious eyes gazing skyward, and dozens of fat little cherubs. This is a shame because Mary is nothing like this. Mary is the Warrior Queen of Heaven. She was assumed body and soul into heaven and helps Jesus direct the great battle against Satan from that high ground. (FYI: Satan is the clever fellow who encourages us sinners to collaborate in creating and maintaining those Structures of Sin).
As part of our parish anniversary preparation, we are again offering (your choice of) three different versions of the 33 Day Marian Consecration and Renewal. Each version reflects in a unique way on Mary’s many virtues and her relationship with Christ. Mary, after all, is the original and most perfect “Christ-bearer” who has ever lived. You can sign-up for the daily emails, which begin this coming Tuesday, on our website.
PLEASE Give it a try. GET HOLY and help make the world a better place.
-Reflection by Deacon Charles