By Fr Russell Pollitt, S.J.
I am a ‘white’ South African. I am angry. I am disillusioned. I cannot believe that one stupid, senseless, racist fool could throw a country backwards, into a vicious circle of despair, because she splashed her bigoted, undignified and racist views on Facebook. It’s utterly unacceptable. Penny Sparrow’s racist comment about ‘black’ people did not only insult them. It took the whole nation to a new level of depravity and reminded us of our immoral past. Like the eye of a storm, it sucked us all into a dark vortex in which the only possible outcome is destruction. And we continue to see that destruction in the offensive rhetoric that abounds on social media.
Most Christians are attuned to interior states that compromise their spiritual lives. Most Christians know that stealing, swearing, sex outside of marriage, abortion and pornography, for example, are sinful. Catholic theology has, traditionally, distinguished between ‘mortal’ (serious) and ‘venial’ (less serious) sin. A mortal sin is described as something that is a wilful violation of God’s law. It is serious and grave. It results in a separation between God and us and causes the “spiritual death of the soul”. Venial sins, on the other hand, do not cause a separation between God and us. They injure our relationship with God. The person may have acted in a way that they did not intend and so their guilt before God is less. The Church reminds us that for a sin to be called ‘mortal’ it must be 1) serious matter; 2) the person must know it’s serious and 3) freely commit it.
Any South African with a conscience cannot but condemn racism. It is serious – we know how serious because we live in the aftermath of the evil of apartheid. Racism is also something we freely commit to – like other serious sins.
No matter how well we say our prayers, how often we condemn stealing or abortion, or how often we attend Mass, if we do not confront (often within us!) and condemn racism we risk living in the dangerous state of mortal sin.
The damage that apartheid did to this country will continue to haunt us like any serious sin haunts the sinner. Townships, squatter camps, lack of running water and massive inequality are all visible reminders of our mortal sin. The worldview and attitude that led to this is alive and well amongst us. We have to face the truth about ourselves because, as Jesus tells us, the truth will set us free (John 8:32). We are not free. South Africa is not free. South Africa has not dealt with racism in a constructive manner. Many ‘black’ people are haunted by the pain and trauma. They are rightly sensitive to racism. Many ‘white’ people have not acknowledged that, collectively, they benefitted – and continue to – from a system that was systemically evil. It is a big deal and we need to find ways of taking responsibility, healing, reconciling and freeing. It will not be easy but it is a demand of Christian life.
The opening lines of the Scriptures and the heritage and tradition of our Christian faith remind us of one fact: all people are created in the image and likeness of God. Racism denies this fundamental truth; it separates us from God and others. It confines us all to Satan’s playground…
Dear Fr Russell, SJ,
Have you face-to-face heard Penny Sparrow’s confession about this SINNING of her; ……………….YES or NO.
“You and your companions will have to listen to the secrets of hearts. Not as you listen to them now as men, but as priests, that is doctors, masters, and pastors of souls, as I am Doctor, Master and Pastor. You will have to listen, decide and give advice. Your judgement will have the same value as if God Himself had passed it”.
Did you follow The Church’s process of Confession, properly?
“When you are Master, Doctor and Pastor in My place and My stead, and when a believer comes to weep at your feet over his perturbation brought about by his own or other people’s deeds, you must always bear in mind the following seven questions:
Who: Who Sinned?
What: What is the matter of the sin?
Where: In which place?
How: In which circumstances?
With what or with whom: The instrument or person that was the material for the sin?
Why: Which incentives brought about the environment favourable to the sin?
When: In which conditions and reactions, and whether by accident or by unwholesome habit?
And above all remember that in each case, before condemning, you must bear in mind that you have been a man as well and that your Master, in Whom no one was ever able to find sin, never condemned anyone who had repented of having sinned. Forgive seventy times seven, and even seventy times seventy, the sins of your brothers and children. Because to shut the doors of Salvation upon a sick man, only because he had a relapse, is to want to let him die.
And in dealing with souls one must be prudent in asking questions. You must respect yourself and other people. It will be easy for you if in every soul you see a son of yours. A father is by nature the master, doctor and guide of his children. So love with fatherly love every person who comes to you upset by sin or by fear of sin, and you will be able to judge without hurting or scandalising anybody.”
You & I were educated by the same Holy SJ’s, but today I’m not sure of their Holiness.