One of the consoling things in life is to know that you’re doing what everyone else is doing. It’s always uncomfortable and embarrassing to realize that you’re out of synch with everyone else. As a bishop recently commented to the largely white church congregation, singing to the melodies that the mainly black musical ensemble was providing on this occasion: “You’ve got to learn how to clap better. You’re way out of synch.”
It is legitimizing to know that you’re in step with everyone else. One doesn’t stand out when in step with the group. The famous Broadway Ziegfield Follies dance chorus of some 50 girls or so graphically depicted this over the years it appeared on stage when they displayed harmonious synchronization in their dance routine, except for one of the 50 girls who always managed to be out of step with the other 49. She obviously stood out.
It’s interesting that we so cherish “being in step”. It supports the idea of harmony and compatibility that is so vital for a group to develop, if it intends to do anything requiring cooperation and coordination, which large groups usually do. That is why military units are taught to march in rhythm with one another. That kind of togetherness will serve them well in later situations, perhaps of combat, where acting together is imperative for survival, and victory.
Yet, it has its downside. Other opinions, different ways of doing things and gaining new ideas, can be of as much value as harmony and togetherness. In fact, routine can be deadening—a criticism often leveled by the laity at the Sunday sermon: I’ve heard that too many times already. More significant is the moral downside of never questioning, never criticizing, never thinking otherwise. This is fertile ground for the inroads of social sin, which acts like a wet blanket, “covering a multitude of sins”. When a departure from the usual or customary evokes the response of: “what’s wrong with that? everybody is doing it.”, we may be in trouble. When the Austrian Franz Jaggerstatter was inducted into the German army in 1941, he refused to serve, convinced the Nazi cause was immoral. All his buddies joined the army, his family urged him to join the army, his parish priest did the same, nor was his bishop enthusiastic about his stance. He was threatened with severe penalties if he didn’t join, but he steadfastly (stubbornly, in the opinion of most) refused, and so was jailed and ultimately beheaded by the Nazi occupying force. Why didn’t he capitulate? Everyone else was doing it—and they were mostly Catholic. Perhaps we should mention he was an illegitimate child, and, in turn, begot a child out of wedlock later on, so, to that extent, he did what other farm boys (though not all of them) did. But we don’t remember him for what he did in consort with others, but for going against the tide.
Social sin, a blight that had infected the entire society of church and state, provided no opening for those like him who thought and acted otherwise. He was a tiny light shining dimly in an all-pervading darkness. He didn’t manage to turn the lights on, but he did succeed in providing one tiny glimmer of light that stood amid surrounding darkness. Today we call on his memory as Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter. He was sensitive to social sin. He probably knew how to handle his personal sins (his out-of-wedlock exploits), in the confessional, as many of us do. They are much easier to confess than trying to acknowledge our social sins, should we even be aware of them. Perhaps we should pray to him for such sensitivity.