Philippa Martyr: Projecting sin onto others is not what conversion is

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Philippa Martyr says that we’re now in a Church where we are called to ‘repent’ of things we didn’t do personally – like colonialism and industrial pollution.. Photo: CNS, Martin Villar, Reuters
Philippa Martyr says that we’re now in a Church where we are called to ‘repent’ of things we didn’t do personally – like colonialism and industrial pollution.. Photo: CNS, Martin Villar, Reuters

So how else can we be different from the world? How can we bring it salt and light, instead of blending into the secular world and vanishing?

Last week I focused on what we are supposed to believe as Catholics. Some of these points may have come as a surprise to some people.

But none of it was new or different. It’s the same basic stuff that the Church has taught for two millennia.

It’s what Jesus taught us, followed by St Paul and by every Church Father (and every Church Mother – some of those Desert Mothers were really good value). And every Doctor of the Church.

“I’ve just finished reading how one Catholic educator said that a Church called to conversion should focus on changes in governance, formation, inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; include more women in leadership and promote an integral ecology of life.”

It’s what the early Church believed. It’s what the medieval Church believed. It’s what the Church of the post-Reformation period believed. It’s what the modern Church believes.
None of the essentials have changed. But I suspect that we just don’t believe all of it. And that would be OUR problem, rather than the Church’s problem.

This is again what Bishop Robert Barron calls ‘beige Catholicism’. It’s a sort of numb self-satisfaction that avoids any of the Church’s sharp edges or confronting beliefs. It avoids God’s devastating call for personal repentance and replaces it with a vague concern for things that are beyond our control.

I saw some examples of this in the recent Plenary Council session. I’ve just finished reading how one Catholic educator said that a Church called to conversion should focus on changes in governance, formation, inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; include more women in leadership and promote an integral ecology of life.

I was left with the impression that for this speaker, personal conversion involved either joining a committee, or creating a compost heap at home. Possibly both.

Philippa Martyr says that if you’ve lost your sense of personal sin, you also start projecting it onto everyone else. Photo: Freepik.com
Philippa Martyr says that if you’ve lost your sense of personal sin, you also start projecting it onto everyone else. Photo: Freepik.com

I’ve been getting a bit of feedback on Facebook about how cruel and unkind it is to talk about awareness of personal sin. Jesus would never have done that.

Except that this is what He spent most of His public ministry doing. Because Jesus – who knows us and loves us intimately – knew that unless we repent personally, we can’t form a real relationship with God.

But decades of poor catechesis have left many Australian Catholics – including very smart and educated ones – with a Jesus who looks exactly like #ThingsJesusNeverSaid. (Try googling that, and you’ll see what I mean).

So we’re now in a Church where we are called to ‘repent’ of things we didn’t do personally – like colonialism and industrial pollution.

“You can’t grow closer to God if you’ve lost your sense of personal sin. You’ll just stop trying. You’re fine the way you are – which is something else Jesus never said.”

Meanwhile, there’s zero call to repent from the very serious things we did do personally – like adultery, petty theft, gossip, fornication, porn consumption, gluttony, envy.

You can’t grow closer to God if you’ve lost your sense of personal sin. You’ll just stop trying. You’re fine the way you are – which is something else Jesus never said.

And you also start projecting your personal sin on to everyone else – in the form of collective guilt for non-existent sins like not sorting your recyclables.

Next week – the flipside of all this, which is joy – I promise!

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