A British newspaper once invited famous authors to contribute to its article, “What’s Wrong with the World?” We can imagine the responses—war, poverty, consumerism, etc. Yet one response stood out above the rest. Among the invitees was the witty writer G.K. Chesterton. He wrote:
Regarding your article “What’s Wrong with the World?”
Chesterton’s pithy response may seem quaint to some. Then again, perhaps his response is the only proper and effective one in the face of worldwide suffering; perhaps it is the only response capable of igniting the change the world so desperately needs.
In the Gospel today, Jesus speaks of his own suffering and rejection. He warns his followers that they, too, must bear crosses and hardships; that they must be willing to lose their life for the life of the world. Notice: Jesus doesn’t offer a formula to solve the infamous “problem of evil”; nor does he articulate a detailed list of “What’s wrong with the world?” Instead, he proposes the only sane response to suffering: “Whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.”
The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky reiterates this point in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky writes through the character of Fr. Zossima: “There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all.” Fr. Zossima goes on to explain that we must get on our knees, water the earth with our tears, and ask forgiveness from all of creation; we must pray daily “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me!” This, Fr. Zossima asserts, is the proper response to the wrongs of the world.
In this light, Chesterton’s response appears in no way a witty dodge, but rather a sincere confession. As Fr. Zossima says, “Truly, each of us is guilty before everyone and for everyone, only people do not know it, and if they knew it, the world would at once become paradise.”
Readings: Dt 30: 15-20 / Ps 1: 1-4, 6 / Lk 9: 22-25