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SPECIAL: Time for a Tsunami of Solidarity

By Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

In an extraordinary turn of events, the world seems to be rediscovering solidarity.

Ironically, this is being brought about through one of the greatest tragedies of this generation, the earthquake and Tsunami that devastated Southern Asia. This horrible event has filled our news ...and expanded our hearts. It has opened our hands. It has stirred a flame of compassion in a place, deep within us all, that too often grows cold in the stuff of our daily lives. It has also brought the Nations of the world together in a concert of concern like nothing of recent memory.

Out of tragedy has come triumph.

Now the question must be asked. Why does it take a tragedy?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of solidarity:"The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of "friendship" or "social charity," is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood. An error, today abundantly widespread, is disregard for the law of human solidarity and charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity." (CCC 1939)

We Humans struggle with this obligation in solidarity. We have for generations. The Book of Genesis, which provides an account of "the beginnings" of the created order and the origin of man and woman, gives us some insights concerning why. Throughout Jewish and Christian tradition, it has been a reference point for explaining the deeper meaning of God's relationship with his creation - and the crown of his creation humankind- as well as our relationships with one another.

The story of the fall of the human race recorded in the third chapter of that Book is an account of the wrong choice made by our first parents. They had been fashioned out of love, by Love and for love. They were also given the capacity to choose to love in return. Yet, they chose against Love. Their choice is what Western Christian theology has called the "original sin".

The results of that choice are still felt, not only individually but in relationships between Nations. The fracturing of their solidarity with God led to a fracturing of their solidarity with one another in the family. In the wake of that rupture in relationship, all of creation was affected.

What makes human persons differ from all the other creatures is our capacity to make choices. Love and compassion are choices. God is not interested in the rote response of robots. He invites the loving response of sons and daughters, toward Him and toward one another. He invited the entire human race into communion with Him and into a communion with one another. We are called to live in solidarity.

The exercise of our freedom opens up either heaven or hell. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself." (par. 1861)

The results of this first wrong choice have had generational repercussions.One of the stories in Genesis concerns the children of Adam and Eve, Cain and his brother Abel. It is the first account of murder in the Bible, an act of fratricide. Cain killed his brother. His resentment over what his brother had received as a gift from God festered into murder. After the dreadful act, he tried to hide his responsibility from God.

"The man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have produced a man with the help of the LORD. Next she bore his brother Abel. Abel became a keeper of flocks and Cain a tiller of the soil. In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil, while Abel, for his part, brought one of the best firstlings of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not. Cain greatly resented this and was crestfallen. So the LORD said to Cain: "Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master."

Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out in the field." When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD asked Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He answered, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" The LORD then said: "What have you done! Listen: your brother's blood cries out to me from the soil! Therefore you shall be banned from the soil that opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. If you till the soil, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a restless wanderer on the earth." Cain said to the LORD: "My punishment is too great to bear. Since you have now banished me from the soil, and I must avoid your presence and become a restless wanderer on the earth, anyone may kill me at sight."

Not so!" the LORD said to him. "If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold." So the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight. Cain then left the LORD'S presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4:1-16

This story provides a framework within which we can more fully understand our relationship with God, our obligations to one another and the effect of our choices. The question "Am I my brothers' keeper" still echoes in our day. Our response to this question has profound implications for our personal and family lives, our social and international relationships, and indeed the very future of the world which we inhabit together. "...sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master."

The story of the offspring of Adam and Eve is a story about the obligations of human solidarity and the consequences of our failure to recognize our obligations to one another. We are our brothers' keeper. The sin of Cain was a sin against solidarity.

The bad fruit of the first sin of Adam and Eve played itself out in the relationship between their offspring. Two brothers, born of the same parents made two very different choices. This is still the pattern of human relationships. Two men exercised their own freedom to choose -- one to life and love (in spite of suffering physical death at the hand of his brother) and the other to an aimless existence as a member of the living dead.

There is another story, recorded in the New Testament; it concerns a "scholar of the law" who asked Jesus about his responsibility to "love his neighbor as himself" in fulfillment of the great command to Israel. The "scholar" wanted to extract a formula. Instead, Jesus used the opportunity to teach all of us about our obligations in solidarity:

"But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.' Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?" He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." St. Luke 10:29-37

We must now "...go and do the same"

The tragedy in southern Asia gives us another opportunity to answer the questions "Am I my brothers' keeper?" and "who is my neighbor?" by responding to the call to solidarity. It is inspiring to see the response, at least so far. It must not be allowed to end.

The choice we must make is to recognize that all men and women are "brother" and "neighbor". That is the meaning of solidarity. The choices that we make not only affect the world around us -they change us, individually and corporately. We become what we choose. The way to overcome the wrong choice of selfishness is selflessness, choosing to love the "other" as another self is the path to authentic peace.

The answer to the fundamental "question" that Cain mockingly posed to the living God is a resounding "Yes"--we are our brothers' keeper. The answer to the "trick" question of the scholar of the law to the question "who is my neighbor" is also clear; there is an obligation to love with a preference those who are most in need.

In the worldwide wake of this tsunami of devastation, something extraordinary has happened. This event that rightly shocked our world has now become a moment for grace.

It is time for a tsunami of solidarity.


Deacon Keith Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. The author of seven books, his eighth, "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" will be available in the Spring from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Deacon Fournier serves as a Senior Editor and Correspondent for Catholic Online Network through Third Millennium,LLC.


Third Millennium, LLC VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580




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