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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Commission And Omission

I was rereading an audio book the other day that reminded me of some of the things I was taught as a child when I was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. The book was Jodi Picoult's Change of Heart. It is a complicated story that boils down to this: a man who is on death row for the murder of a child and her police officer stepfather decides that he wants to donate his heart to the dead child's half-sister, who was born after the murders. When the priest was a young college student, he was on the jury which found the accused guilty and sentenced him to death. As the time for Shay Bourne's execution draws near, Father Michael becomes his spiritual advisor, but does not tell him that he was on the jury. I will not tell you much of the rest, just in case you decide you want to read the book.

Father Michael, however, deals with a spiritual crisis of his own. He is trying to help Shay as the date of execution approaches, and many amazing things happen. But Michael has not told Shay that he was one of the people who decided that he should be put to his death. Father Michael thinks about sin, and how there are two types of sin, sins of commission, and sins of omission. The difference between the two is as simple as the difference between the two words. A sin of commission occurs when someone willfully does something wrong. A sin of omission occurs when someone neglects to do something that is right. (Please keep in mind that I am not a student of Theology, and, as such, may not be describing this in the same manner as someone with deeper knowledge of these concepts. Please forgive me for any errors I may make in this regard; I simply state these concepts as I understand them.) So, Father Michael hasn't actively lied to Shay, he has neglected to tell the truth. A sin of omission.

This really got me thinking, and not about religion or faith. It just made me think about the way people treat one another. I don't want to think about it as sins, but perhaps as failings. How many ways have I failed others, I wondered. No, I am not a person who actively looks for ways to hurt others. I have been hurt enough in my time to know how awful it feels. But I often worry about my failings of omission. Should I have gone to the stranger waiting at the pharmacy, who looked weary and worried, and offered a greeting and an opportunity to vent? Have I done enough good for friends and for strangers? I suppose I could go on and on. I guess what's the most important is being loving and being aware in the moment. Following my instincts, and being willing to be rebuffed if I offer help to someone who may not want or need it. Not worrying about commission and omission, but just trying to help others whenever I can on this journey called life. I guess that's something I can commit to. Maybe others can, too.