To Do or Not to Do

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Catholics were traditionally instructed in the categories or types of sin, in preparation for approaching confession, or the sacrament of reconciliation. Two such categories, probably among the most important, were sins of commission and sins of omission. (Sins of commission always seemed to bother us more than sins of omission). In today’s contemporary catechesis or instruction in our faith, we are not as interested as formerly, in these types of sin-focused categories: who cares? Except that, whether we admit it or not, they still loom large as life before us, demanding our attention. A current example is the Syria situation, and the question as to whether we (Americans) should commit ourselves immediately to intervention or whether, as now seems to be the case, we should hold off from such action, and take the time to see whether other modes of action are effective in dealing with the situation. This partially illustrates a choice between an act of commission (act now, militarily) or an act of omission (no military action now, but an exploration of poison gas sites, to disable them). The major rationale for this is: less civilian deaths. A missile attack now would be an act of commission, evil because it kills Syrian civilians. On the other hand, given the 100,000 civilian deaths already perpetrated by the Syrian government against its own people, plus 1400 more gassed to death, apparently at the hands of the same government, failure to intervene militarily now will surely result in many more Syrian civilians killed, again by their own government, during the probable extended period of time needed to discover and disable these sites. So, the problem: many civilians killed by our commission/many civilians killed by our omission. What to do? Which is worse? Usually, we ask: did I do wrong? Less often do we ask: did I fail to do good? The latter seems to prevail in Matthew 25: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked…and not minister to your needs?”

Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

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