Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. As we continue our reflection on conversion, sustained by the
certainty of the Father's love, today we will focus our attention on
the meaning of sin, both personal and social.
Let us first look at Jesus' attitude, since he came to deliver
mankind from sin and from Satan's influence.
The New Testament strongly emphasizes Jesus' authority over demons,
which he cast out "by the finger of God" (Lk 11: 20). In the Gospel
perspective, the deliverance of those possessed by demons (cf. Mk 5:
1-20) acquires a broader meaning than mere physical healing in that
the physical ailment is seen in relation to an interior one. The
disease from which Jesus sets people free is primarily that of sin.
Jesus himself explains this when he heals the paralytic: ""That you
may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins'
he said to the paralytic "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet
and go home'" (Mk 2: 10-11). Even before working cures, Jesus had
already conquered sin by overcoming the "temptations" which the
devil presented to him during the time he spent in the wilderness
after being baptized by John (cf. Mk 1: 12-13); Mt 4: 1-11; Lk 4:
To fight the sin that lurks in us and around us, we must follow in
Jesus' footsteps and learn the sense of his constant "yes" to the
Father's plan of love. This "yes" demands our total commitment, but
we would not be able to say it without the help of that grace which
Jesus himself obtained for us by his work of redemption.
2. Now, looking at the world today we have to admit that there is a
marked decline in the consciousness of sin. Because of widespread
religious indifference or the rejection of all that right reason and
Revelation tell us about God, many men and women lack a sense of
God's Covenant and of his commandments. All too often the human
sense of responsibility is blurred by a claim to absolute freedom,
which it considers threatened and compromised by God, the supreme
The current tragic situation, which seems to have foresaken certain
fundamental moral values, is largely due to the loss of the sense of
sin. This fact makes us aware of the great distance to be covered by
the new evangelization. Consciences must recover the sense of God,
of his mercy, of the gratuitousness of his gifts to be able to
recognize the gravity of sin which sets man against his Creator.
Personal freedom should be recognized and defended as a precious
gift of God, resisting the tendency to lose it in the structures of
social conditioning or to remove it from its inalienable reference
to the Creator.
3. It is also true that personal sin always has a social impact.
While he offends God and harms himself, the sinner also becomes
responsible for the bad example and negative influences linked to
his behaviour. Even when the sin is interior, it still causes a
worsening of the human condition and diminishes that contribution
which every person is called to make to the spiritual progress of
the human community.
In addition to all this, the sins of individuals strengthen those
forms of social sin which are actually the fruit of an accumulation
of many personal sins. Obviously the real responsibility lies with
individuals, given that the social structure as such is not the
subject of moral acts. As the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Reconciliatio et Paenitentia recalls: "Whenever the Church speaks of
situations of sin, or when she condemns as social sins certain
situations or the collective behaviour of certain social groups, big
or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows
and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of
the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins.... The
real responsibility, then, lies with individuals" (n. 16).
It is nevertheless an indisputable fact, as I have often pointed
out, that the interdependence of social, economic and political
systems creates multiple structures of sin in today's world. (cf.
Sollicitudo rei socialis, n. 36; Catechism of the Catholic Church,
n. 1869). Evil exerts a frightening power of attraction which causes
many types of behaviour to be judged "normal" and "inevitable". Evil
then grows, having devastating effects on consciences, which become
confused and even incapable of discernment. If one then thinks of
the structures of sin that hinder the development of the peoples
most disadvantaged from the economic and political standpoint (cf.
Sollicitudo rei socialis, n. 37), one might almost surrender in the
face of a moral evil which seems inevitable. So many people feel
powerless and bewildered before an overwhelming situation from which
there seems no escape. But the proclamation of Christ's victory over
evil gives us the certainty that even the strongest structures of
evil can be overcome and replaced by "structures of good" (cf.
ibid., n. 39).
4. The "new evangelization" faces this challenge. It must work to
ensure that people recover the awareness that in Christ evil can be
conquered with good. People must be taught a sense of personal
responsibility, closely connected with moral obligations and the
consciousness of sin. The path of conversion entails the exclusion
of all connivance with those structures of sin which, today in
particular, influence people in life's various contexts.
The Jubilee offers individuals and communities a providential
opportunity to walk in this direction by promoting an authentic "metanoia",
that is, a change of mentality that will help create ever more just
and human structures for the benefit of the common good.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I am pleased to greet the members of the Shingon Buddhist Delegation
from Japan. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Japan
and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and