Parish Penitential Service for the Year of Mercy

To celebrate this Year of Mercy, the parish is organising a weekend which will begin on Friday evening, with a Reconciliation Service at 19h00. All are welcome. There will be a Pilgrimage of Mercy on Saturday and at all Sunday services the Sacrament of Healing and Annointing of the Sick will be offered.

Mr Tim Smith, the incoming Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service for Southern Africa, gave the following reflection on social sin.

Many of us find it difficult to relate to social sin.

We all know about personal sin, and we can relate to that. If we’re honest, we feel a sense of personal sin all the time. In fact, the sense of personal sin is directly proportional to how close we are to God. The greatest saints were those who felt most like sinners. The closer we are to God, the more we realise that we are sinners.

But social sin for us is difficult. We can’t quite get our heads around it, except maybe through examples.

One clear example is the social institution of Slavery. We all know and sense instinctively that slavery is wrong. That’s a great example, a clear evil and yet which was so entrenched in society that individuals, even good individuals, could be blind to the evil reality of it. The Church was often blind to the reality of it. The Church owned slaves. I heard recently that the great Jesuit University of Georgetown in the US owned slaves in the nineteenth century. When they needed funds they decided to sell them, but sold them individually, 272 of them, breaking up families in the process. They have made a public apology for this and are making amends to the descendants of those slaves. Slavery is a social sin, a structure of evil that caused incredible suffering to human beings.

Two weeks ago I was in Nuremberg Germany. I took the opportunity to go and see the Palace of Justice, where those who planned World War II and the genocide and mass-murders that took place during it were put on trial. It is somehow a moving place. You can see the dock where the so-called 24 henchmen were arraigned during the hearings in 1946. I can’t think of a clearer example of social and structural sin, than the great machinery of death which the Nazis put in place to rid the world of “undesirables” during the Second World War, which resulted in over 50 million deaths.

War is the most extreme example of social sin. Genocide is another. A more recent example and one much closer to home is apartheid. Apartheid was a clear example of a social sin, a structure put in place out of fear and maintained through force, to protect one people against all the rest. All of us have our memories of apartheid, and we know the suffering or the privileges which it brought. We are still reckoning with the legacy of apartheid and will be for years to come.

Pope Francis is a man who has powerfully brought social sin to the foreground and into the spotlight.

“Just as goodness tends to spread , the toleration of evil, which is injustice tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an avil embedded in the structures of society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.” (Evangelli Gaudium no. 59)

In this context we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples:

“You yourselves give them something to eat!” (Mk 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. (Evangelli Gaudium no. 188)

Pope Francis is sometimes at his best when confronting directly the social evils in our world today:

“[Solidarity] is … to fight against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labour rights. It is to confront the destructive effects of the empire of money: forced displacements, painful emigrations, the traffic of persons, drugs, war, violence and all those realities that many of you suffer and that we are all called to transform. Solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history.” Last week we saw images of the war in Syria, of the dreadful attacks on hospitals, and the heart-rending videos of children, some as young as six months, being pulled from the rubble. More than 100 children died last weekend in Aleppo. That is man’s inhumanity to man made concrete. That is social sin.

And Pope Francis confronts an issue which is very close to us as South Africans today:

“May the message of mercy reach everyone, and may no one be indifferent to the call to experience mercy … Do not fall into the terrible trap of thinking that life depends on money and that, in comparison with money, anything else is devoid of value or dignity… The same invitation is extended to those who either perpetrate or participate in corruption. This festering wound is a grave sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance, because it threatens the very foundations of personal and social life. Corruption prevents us up from looking to the future with hope, because its tyrannical greed shatters the plans of the weak and tramples upon the poorest of the poor. It is an evil that embeds itself into the actions of everyday life and spreads, causing great public scandal. Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusion that money is a form of power.”

Let’s be silent and examine ourselves:

  • In my life, where do I take part in social sin?
  • What compromises do I make every day?
  • Do I allow myself to be influenced by others?
  • Where do I turn a blind eye to corruption? To mediocrity? To compromise?
  • Do I let myself be led by custom, habit, convention?
  • Do I fail to stand up for principle, for my conscience?
  • Am I too lazy to examine what I believe?
  • Do I close my mind to human suffering, to injustice, to evil?
  • Do I retreat into myself and my own security, when faced with such things?
  • Do I close my mind to inequality, to injustice?
  • Do I let others make decisions for me?
  • Do I give way to greed, to “looking after No. 1” rather than being generous?
  • Do I give way to pride, to nationalism, to xenophobia, to generalizing about other people?
  • Do I make judgements about other people? Other cultures? Other languages?

Let us pray the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.