We’re in the second week of four weeks of readings from the
Letter to the Romans. I want to draw our attention to just one thread of
St. Paul’s thought this week.
In Romans 5, St. Paul talks about
how we receive a double inheritance. Through Adam we are born into sin,
and from him we inherit death. Through Christ we are reborn into grace,
and from Him we inherit eternal life.
In Romans 7, St. Paul talks
about how he experienced this double inheritance. “For I do not do the
good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” It’s a great
psychological definition of sin, and we can all verify it in our own
experience. Like Paul, we feel ourselves pulled in two directions. We
know what’s good, and we want to do it, but we fail. We know that
something is wrong, and do it anyway. The two inheritances compete
Against that background, St. Paul urges us: “Do not
present your bodies to sin … but present yourselves to God.” He’s
reminding us that, although we feel pulled in two directions, the choice
of which direction to go is ours. And it matters because our spiritual
life and death are on the line.
St. John Paul II, whose feast day
we celebrate this week (Oct. 22), added that the consequences of our
choices don’t affect us alone. For better and for worse, they affect
everyone else as well. He said that, thanks to the communion of saints,
it’s “possible to say that every soul that rises above itself, raises up
the world.” That’s hopeful news! But he added that one can also speak
of “a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin
drags down with itself the Church and, in some way, the whole world.”
science of ecology shows how things are connected with each other in
the natural world. St. John Paul was simply pointing out that there’s a
supernatural ecology as well. In that supernatural ecology there’s no
such thing as a private sin and no such thing as a private virtue: every
sin and every virtue shapes the spiritual environment of the world.
of us experiences the double inheritance of Adam and Christ — the back
and forth pull of sin and grace — in our own way. And we know that each
of us has to decide which of those inheritances we will claim for
ourselves. But it’s time to stop pretending that our decisions for sin
or grace don’t have consequences for others. Every surrender to sin
pollutes the spiritual world for everyone else; and every surrender to
God’s grace in some way lifts up the whole world.