by Jason Wilde
It was Sunday morning, and I was at the ‘Super’ buying the last few groceries for our nice family lunch - a chicken breast, some sweet peppers, an onion, and some bananas for a snack. I set my haul onto the end of the counter where the cashier was ringing up the man in front of me. In front of him was a six-pack of beer and a liter of liquor that he requested from the well-stocked shelf behind the cashier.
“Cuatro mil ochocientos” (4800 colones), the cashier rambled out. The man handed a red 5 mil (5,000 colones) bill, got his change of two 100 colones coins, and then walked out to mount his waiting motorcycle at the curb.
“Cuatro mil ochocientos sesenta” (4870 colones), the cashier states after weighing my produce and finishing the sale.
Incredible, I thought, that the man just bought his day’s supply of alcohol for cheaper than a few ingredients for a single meal.
This comparison is a pretty good preface for the rest of my Sunday.
Walking back to our house, I could see Miguel* visiting with our neighbor missionaries. He tends to show up intoxicated on Sunday mornings, usually crying that he is failing God and asking for food. We usually offer coffee and a bowl of whatever food we may have in the refrigerator or crock pot.
This morning, I sat with him for a while on our porch while he asked if God will forgive him, and he expressed a desire to play our ukulele (he loves to play Phil’s guitar).
When it was time for our family’s lunch, I was asked if I could bring another family that we were visiting with back to their house. I agreed, but before I could leave, Miguel asked if he could get a ride too. I reluctantly agreed because I didn’t really know where he lived and I have a hard time understanding him when he is in such a state. When I returned from the first drop-off, another man who was visiting with the missionaries also asked for a ride home with Miguel. When we got to this man’s house, both he and Miguel jumped out of the van, and then I saw Miguel take a drink of the man’s homemade brew from a plastic bottle in his back pocket. Miguel jumped back in the car, and we drove to the other side of town (only a couple of minutes, really). When we got to Miguel’s house, he was noticeably more intoxicated than when we started. He refused to leave the van, crying that he wanted to visit his ‘rancho’, and that he was all alone at his house. After several minutes trying to convince him, his son and another man eventually were able to coax him out, crying.
Feeling emotionally drained as I drove back to our house, I couldn’t help but notice the bar at that end of town already opening up for the day. We like to say that we live in a one-road town, marked at both ends by ‘bars’, referring to the two largest businesses in town that are no doubt doing well each weekend. Consumption of alcohol and alcoholism is a real chain around the people we serve. It offers a reprieve from the hard life that most men serve six days a week earning only about $15-20 a day in the best case. And as illustrated this morning at the ‘Super’, it is quite literally as affordable to live on alcohol as on food due to the high cost of groceries. We live in a town where an alcoholic or even casual drinker is constantly enticed and bombarded by their vice and there are very few barriers preventing them from partaking. So, they work all week, then stop by the bar or the ‘Super’ for some alcohol, and then drink away their earnings, leaving them with nothing left to help families or even buy food for the next week. In a way, there is a structure of sin that keeps many working men in constant alternative states of poverty and intoxication.
Of course, this is hardly a problem only here in rural Costa Rica. Even in San Jose, the large tourist capital city, the same structures of sin are there, but they sometimes get drowned out by the glamour and wealthy and beautiful mountains. Or, a slightly more affluent life and the expectations that go behind such a life allow the same person to resist or fight the urge, either through formal programs such as AA or through social norms that require one to be sober to have friends, family, and a job. Even in the USA, the same structures exist, and in many cases it is considered glamorous to live such a life. Many movies in the past decades are set in a life of intoxication, and supporting such media would be supporting this structure of sin, as well as sins of omission by not urging for more restrictive policies against such a life.
This is how structures of sin works - they are ignored until they become so ingrained in a society that they self-perpetuate and even cause sins in those who don’t partake in the sin first-hand (e.g. through sins of omission) to the point that people don’t even think sin is occurring. I suspect that most people wouldn’t even consider drinking in such a way as a sin because it doesn’t affect anyone.
Until it does…
That afternoon, we were shuttling the kids to Casa de Jesus so we could prepare for our afternoon ministries - sacramental preparation classes for adults and our children’s ministry. I noticed a Jeep slowing down on the road, and as I waved, the driver began explaining that the boy in the back of his car was beat by his father and abandoned. The men found the 9- or 10-year old boy on the road, and he was crying, visibly upset. He had a backpack full of what I would guess are his belongings and was reasonably well dressed in a collared shirt. Through some encouragement and a helpful neighbor, we were able to get the boy out of the car and then I went with another missionary to inform the local frontera police. Unfortunately we don’t think there are very formal laws regarding such situations in the frontera, and the police really don’t care to do much other than keep the peace unless they find an illegal immigrant doing something that warrants deportation. It would be completely possible that they just drove him back to his home and dropped him off with a warning to the family.
Knowing very little about the boy’s situation, it is very hard to actually know what happened. But it would also be very reasonable to believe that the situation that occurred was not just an incident of anger, but instead involves some other social sin that keeps him from loving his son.
Fighting these structures of sin that are so intertwined with social norms is difficult and usually results in persecution. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings provides a good allegory for the life of such evil. Sin loves to live in darkness, slowly festering and growing, while those who could defeat it deny its existence. This continues to the point that people don’t even recognize the sin as evil anymore, and will tell anyone who fights it that it is a useless battle. In most cases, it is hard to even identify such structures because ‘that isn’t really a problem here’, or ‘that’s not really a sin’, or ‘he just makes bad choices’. I’ve found that if any of these answers come to my mind, then it is more than likely sin concealing itself.
One of our friends who is in most need financially recently confided in us that she had been taking birth control shots, and it was causing her to be sick. She didn’t know what to do because she felt that she was so poor that she would be sinning by trying to raise another baby when she couldn’t afford food for tomorrow. Here is another structure of sin that has caused the birth rates in Costa Rica to drop significantly since poverty aid organizations entered the country several decades ago providing free birth control as a way to fight poverty. But to argue this case with most of the world would incite dissention and persecution.
Unfortunately, the same sentiment exists in the United States, and it has even manifested as a sin among Catholics. Most people know that Catholics believe abortion is a sin, but we haven’t really been very upfront with promoting programs which would address the same concerns as this friend. Most of the time, Catholics like to focus on things like ‘sexual promiscuity’, or ‘glamorizing’, or ‘free will to have sex’ as the reasons why people want to have birth control and abortions, but in reality, poverty and exclusion are major factors. We live in a society that is anti-family and anti-poor, and so most women don’t see how bringing up a child in such a situation is just. Focusing on the individual sins of doctors or prospective mothers is almost hypocritical when at the same time, we tell the mother that she is not guaranteed paid maternity leave, and that she must either choose not to work (in which case we don’t want to pay welfare or medical care, i.e. meritocracy), or she must put her baby in a daycare that costs more than she makes per hour at her minimum wage job. We claim to be pro-life and pro-family but at the same time, we won’t go out of our way to help a parent with ‘an unruly child’ and instead isolate them in the little glass room at the back of church. And as an ultimate sin of omission, we fail to speak up whenever families are forcibly separated by world powers.
So what can we do to fight structures of sin? First of all, we do not judge the sinner for what they do, lest we be judged (Mat 7:1), we must offer no resistance to one who is evil (Mat 5:39), and we must be a light shining before others (Mat 5:16). In fact, we must ‘lean in’ to persecution, offering the other cheek. What this may mean in many cases is to go out of our comfort zone, become uncomfortable, meet the sinner, encounter trials and risk, and ultimately, live in solidarity with those affected by these structures. Living in solidarity is the “responsibility of everyone to everyone” (Pope Benedict); it helps us to find out the real depth of such problems, and therefore helps us to keep from judging the sinner and instead begin to solve the problem by changing the culture. In other cases, it may mean that we need to sacrifice our own treasure to put our heart in the place of the blessed poor. Using meritocracy, for example, as an excuse to not support the unemployed is just another way these structures of sin entangle the rich along with poor. Instead, we must offer to pay more for goods that are produced by people who have no other means of employment, and pay a fair wage that is based on the cost of living. We must relax our grip on our own riches when it comes to providing infrastructure or safety nets, and when we have to take care of our own planet.
That evening, I noticed a fog hovering around my back door. But this wasn’t a cool wet fog from the humid air. No, it was a cloud of gnats hovering over our heaping pile of trash by the back door; one that was in danger of attracting much bigger insects and animals as well. I looked out at the 55 gallon drum in our backyard that was to be used to burn trash. I can’t stand the smell of burning plastic, and yet it seems to constantly hang in the air around our town because there is no trash pickup for over an hour’s drive, and the nearest recycling center that we can find is nearly two hours away. It’s not that people don’t know the fumes from burning trash are harmful, it’s that there is no feasible alternative. It’s a structure of sin that exists in most of the poorest and most remote areas of the world and is ignored by many who have the resources to battle it.
I am going to do something about it.
Instead of judging people or telling them what they are doing is wrong, I am going to do something better. I don’t even have a fully-developed plan yet, but I know I am going to try to do something about this sin. My first step began almost two months ago when we started to focus our family’s roadside trash pickup on plastics with the intent of bringing them to a recycling center. Last week was our first drop off in San Jose. At the same time, we are trying to figure out how to compost in an area where wild dogs roam the neighborhoods and insects that look like they came from Jurassic Park beg to invade your home. Maybe sometime in the future our witness may spread as a way to generate better soil in an area where dense red clay makes many fruits sour and tasteless. Maybe we’ll work with a local farmer to create a landfill or have a regular recycling pick-up service. I don’t know, but it’s all I can do to fight sin, and I’m sure I’ll reap the rewards of persecution and/or rejection. People will say that this isn’t the ‘most important’ thing to do, or that it is useless, or that it will cost too much.
We should all take the same attitude when it comes to abortion, alcoholism, poverty, drugs, atheism, gangs, etc., all of which are intertwined in a nasty web of social sins.
by Grace Wilde
Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions. (Luke 12)
Have you ever been to the store? There is extravagant stuff everywhere, welcome signs, craft ideas, then you spot a beautiful dress. You already have millions of dresses but this one is just unique. So you buy it. This simple act sounds normal, but it is not. Buying extra things is the feeding of the brain with material stuff not the educational, spiritual, and foundation of life kind of stuff. This is not silly, not crazy, this is consumption.
Adam and Eve - Consumption brought sin into the world!
Where did consumption start? Believe it or not consumption brought sin into the world.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (Genesis 3)
You see Eve was tempted by the devil with a sneaky trick. The trick of consumption. She was first asked what the tree was about. She told him. The devil states that God is wrong. He convinced her that the fruit actually was a mystical, delicious, powerful fruit that made you more powerful than God. She ate it and gave it to Adam, but it didn’t make her happy. It made her as miserable beyond miserable. In this simple act, she brought sin into the world. The devil tries to do the same thing today. He tempts us into his lies of consumption.
Earth - Consumption brought sin into the world and may end it!
Let’s say a new computer comes out. Every one in a city hears about it. Many people already have a computer, but this one is even better. So, everyone buys it. So, all of the old computers fill up a dump. This is a example of how something may seem awesome, but it trickles back to a dump. Think, 1.5 tons of trash are wasted a year per person. Now, there is billions of people in the world. So, the whole world wastes 1,110,000 tons a year. How much would change if we didn’t over consume?
Joy - Not the joy of things
Let's say you have a chocolate bar and you eat it. Does this give you joy? That joy will only last for a minute. The same thing happens with a phone. What is real joy? Real joy is the joy that can stick to us for days; the joy that will last forever. The answer of this desire is Jesus. Jesus is the joy that sticks to you for eternity, not the material possessions of this world. Jesus fills me with joy everyday in receiving the sacraments, spending time with my family, singing praise and worship songs, caring for the poor, reflecting on His word during desert day, praying at adoration, attending Mass, and observing his creation (grass, trees, flowers, mountains, dirt, air, stars, the moon, the blue sky, snow, rain, the sun).
Each encounter with Jesus fills us with joy, with that deep joy which only God can give. - Pope Francis
When we open our Christmas presents on Christmas day let us remember that the real present and the real joy is Jesus. So, let us go out this Christmas to love one another and not things.
You weren't created just to consume resources, you were put on this Earth to make a contribution. - Mother Teresa
by Jason Wilde
I've always had an awe for the many revelations when God shows himself at just the right time in order to make his point. It is in these miracles that Jesus frequently gets to play the part of an illusionist after his resurrection, staying hidden from perception until just the right time, when one of his disciples have said what they needed to say and then 'POP', "Hey, it's me!"
My favorite is Saint Paul's story of revelation and conversion. Who else but the Holy Spirit would lead Christianity's number one nemesis out into the desert, not to be left for dead, but to blind him by the full-on light of God with the sole intent of building him into to Christianity's bulldog evangelist? Maybe the reason I have fallen in love with Paul's revelation is because in my own life, I have been shown the light in such a way that it completely turned me around, pointed me in the right direction, and then gave me a kick in the rear for good measure. Of course, it didn't all happen overnight, but I can point to a few times in my life where I was changed, or even had a revelation, you might say.
June 2015 was one of those times. I thought we had it all figured out - a good salary, a manageable house, small enough that we could have an exciting travel life with our 3 kids, and a weekly Sunday routine that included an hour of God.
In that month, Pope Francis caused a stir in both the secular and religious world with his encyclical Laudato si' (On Care for Our Common Home). I was on the side of many Catholic conservatives when I scoffed at the media reports of an environmentalist Pope who believed in climate change. "Why in the world would he be talking about this?" I remember thinking to myself. "Must be just media spin", I rationalized to myself.
Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. (Laudato si 14)
It was such a strong conviction that it actually convinced me to download a copy of the heated encyclical (pun intended), with the sole purpose of confirming my beliefs.
Now, I wasn't exactly someone who would sit and read the Bible, much less a 184 page homily about the environment. And, like Paul, I didn't even make it past the first couple of chapters before I was hooked, blinded, knocked off of my pedestal, and, for the most part, proven wrong. I say 'for the most part' because the encyclical really didn't provide a lot of new information to me, but instead it linked together issues that I thought previously unrelated, and it opened my eyes to what God really cares about. I already had a minimalist mind, one that had downsized our family to living in a condo with a single car, recycled faithfully, and converted the bulbs in my house to lower energy versions. All these things were very environmentally friendly. But I only did them to serve a purpose - to save me money. I was incredibly selfish in this way, to the point of becoming fanatical about saving for the next trip, which I now think was akin to idolatry.
But, what Laudato si' taught me was that we shouldn't have selfless love for just ourselves, or for only the people whom we already loved.
Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society. (Laudato si’ 91)
What I learned from Laudato si' was that we should love all of humanity, and one of the ways we do this is by caring for the creation that God entrusted to us. We should be pro-life in the sense that all life is worth caring for, and countless lives are impacted by our environmental footprint. Pope Francis often refers to the 'throwaway culture', using it as a double meaning for a culture of resource waste and a culture which discards lives if they are not deemed worthy or valuable. This is an intentional joining of life and our environment. Caring for our common home is a part of this holistic fulfillment of Jesus's pro-life teachings that asks us to love one another. Focusing only on one aspect, or neglecting another, is akin to the misguided Pharisaic views about sinners, the lame, the weak, the dying, or Jesus himself.
If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men. - Saint Francis of Assisi
We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature. (Laudato si 139)
As I found myself reading more of the church's teachings, and eventually cracking open a Bible myself, I found that like Jesus, Pope Francis's 'radical' views weren't really new or very different from any of his predecessors, or from the saints who lived exemplary Christian lives before him, or from Jesus Himself. If anything, the reason his views are considered so extreme by most Christians is because he is now explaining things in such a way that we are all listening.
(Bartholomew) asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion. (Laudato si 9)
And so, in the spirit of Laudato si' on this Earth Day, I challenge you to do something selfless. Instead of thinking only of yourself, or the neighbor you already love, or your personal idol (whatever that may be), try to do something that will have absolutely no benefit for yourself but will help life and our common home. Try to do something that will form a new bond between yourself and God's creation, to allow you to love without expecting something in return. Maybe that is picking up trash on a random street, making a pledge to recycle, spending the entire evening outside with the kids (remember to turn off the lights inside!), slowing down to treat other drivers with love, turning up the A/C a degree, finding a way to use those last few carrots in the bottom of your crisper instead of going out to eat, sitting on the porch and read the first few pages of Laudato si, or walking to the mailbox instead of driving. Any selfless act of modesty, or kindness for someone or something in God's creation would be a good start.
Praise Be To God!
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
(St. Francis Prayer)
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.