How often do we realize that our actions have consequences? Most people are not aware of how their individual decisions and behaviors can affect the lives of others. Last week – to be precise, on September 26, 2014 – we were all given a dramatic demonstration of how one act of one individual can have dire consequences for thousands of people.
Early that Friday morning a federal contractor working at the Chicago En Route Center at Aurora, IL, started a fire in the basement of the telecommunications facility. He was upset apparently because he was being transferred to Hawaii. I am not sure of whatever else was going on in the life of that 36-year-old man. He decided to express his discontent by destroying Federal property and in the process he sent air travel in the country into a wild tailspin. The FAA estimates that the damage done to the radar facility alone could run over $30 million.
More than 2,500 flights were canceled. Many others were delayed. Passengers were stranded not only in Chicago airports but also in many others across the country. Thousands of people could not reach their destinations on time and their lives were rudely disrupted, all because one man decided to react negatively to the so-called injustice done to him. He was so self-absorbed that he probably did not foresee the tremendous impact his actions would have.
Ancient Hindus understood this truth. That is why Hinduism, which goes back a couple of thousand years before Christ, subscribes to the Principle of Karma. It basically says that the fruits of your actions will follow you. If you do good, good things will come your way. If you do bad, bad things will befall you. Since Hinduism believes in reincarnation, it asserts that if you are suffering in the present it is because of the evil you did in your previous life. In a certain sense over emphasis on Karma can lead to fatalism.
Our Christian faith does not believe in Karma, but in grace. We are not the helpless victims of our past actions. However, we do hold that actions have consequences. Eve, the mother of all the living, was so enamored of the forbidden fruit that she did not anticipate the consequences of her and Adam’s actions. The Book of Genesis states that “…the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…” Adam and Eve were so taken in by the moment that they did not anticipate the outcome. As a result of their rebellion, death and suffering entered the world. All their progeny had to pay for their sin. Our will to do good was weakened whereas our attraction for evil grew stronger.
Our mainstream culture wants to emphasize the present to the detriment of the future. We hear such slogans as “You live only once!” and “Don’t miss out on any experience.” Listening to such suggestions, we can easily overlook the consequences of our actions in our eagerness to fulfill all our whims and fancies. Someone may say, “What I do in private hurts no one.” The truth of the matter is the contrary. All our actions harm or benefit someone.
Contrast the action of the 36-year-old man who set fire to a federal facility with the humble gesture of Pope Benedict nineteen months ago. Listening to God’s voice, he took the unprecedented, bold step of resigning from the papacy, an action not contemplated by any pope in many centuries. Pope Benedict was totally empty of himself and as a result, he was able to go beyond his own personal desires and interests. He looked to the good of the entire Church. Consequently, his action has blessed the Church as it ushered in a New Pentecost. Pope Francis was elected – a total surprise – and the Catholic faith is emerging stronger and more credible. Our new Pontiff is calling on us to focus on the essentials: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, carrying out our mission to the poor, and welcoming everyone with compassion without any type of judgment.
Let us stop and think before we act. Let us ask ourselves: “Will my action benefit someone or hurt them?” When we choose to do something, we also choose the consequences. Let us bear in mind the words of Robert Louis Stevenson who said: “Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
May the Lord of all goodness always inspire us to do good and avoid evil!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...