St Mamertus

Bishop of Vienne (in southeastern France) (entered heaven this day in 475)

Dear Mimie,

I am glad you have finally been able to choose a major.  As you know, I was lobbying for it to be philology, but I am not opposed to your choice of sociology.  As your faithful uncle, however, I am obliged to warn you about sociology’s pitfalls, of which there are many.  The one to keep in mind is its tendency to minimize individual moral responsibility. Surveys, statistics, and models of human behavior necessarily focus on general trends and tendencies – often ignoring the powerful influence of individual creativity and depravity.  If according to the latest studies prematurely born children have a significantly higher chance of becoming drug users, that does not excuse any particular person (whether born prematurely or not) from his or her free (and wrong) choice to use destructive and addicting substances as their preferred form of entertainment.  In other words, just because “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t mean everyone should be doing it.  

The best antidote for such narrow-minded scientism is a healthy awareness of the reality of sin.  Sin is nothing more (or less!) than making a wrong moral choice, which happens to be a rebellion against God.  Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, we have all had a tendency to sin; we remain free and responsible for our actions, but vulnerable to temptation (which is one of the reasons Christ bothered to come and save us).  Sin is evil. We shouldn’t sin. And when we do, it has destructive consequences for us and for those around us. Peer pressure, societal momentum, and cultural depravity can at times lessen the level of our responsibility for sin, but we can never excuse ourselves for disobeying and ignoring our conscience.

Today’s saint had a very healthy understanding of this simple fact.  His diocese in southeastern France suffered a series of natural calamities (earthquakes, fires, etc.), and he responded by encouraging his people to do penance and ask for God to forgive their sins. (Whether the calamities were “punishments” from God is irrelevant; the mere reality of sin and its undeniably evil consequences needs no signs of divine vengeance to validate it.)  He instituted the minor Rogation Days (three days of fasting and prayerful processions before the feast of the Ascension) to encourage this return to God, with marvelous fruits of holiness and charity throughout the diocese. So effective was this penitential practice that it soon spread throughout Europe, and eventually, the Pope authorized it as a general Christian devotion.

Of course, I am not advising you to walk around campus flagellating yourself; but at least you can keep up your good habit of regularly going to confession, and keep on making your Friday sacrifice (in remembrance of the crucifixion, the clearest manifestation of sin’s destructive power) as required by the Church (abstaining from meat is still a very valid way to do this, you know).  In any case, just don’t let those velvet-tongued “experts” convince you that we aren’t responsible for our own behavior. We are. Which is why we are in such need of God’s mercy.

Love, Uncle Eddy

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