A virtual Life in the Spirit experience
February 15, 2021
Lent: a time for renewing faith, hope and love
February 15, 2021

A tiredness of soul

By Fr Martin Sirju

Fr Jack Conley, an American Passionist priest, tells the story of a young graduate student going to visit Rosa Parks. Parks was the forty-two-year old African American seamstress who, on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, sat down on one of the seats in a crowded public bus when racial laws disallowed her from doing so.

The irate bus driver called the police. They came, arrested her, handcuffed her, and fingerprinted her. This doctoral student, many years later, would ask Parks in an interview, why she sat down that day in Montgomery. She said: “I sat down because I was tired. But it wasn’t my feet; my soul was tired.”

And so too, my soul is tired. I had to join some protest walk in the light of the violence meted out to the young women of our society – kidnapped, tortured, raped, murdered, and in many instances still unfound.

The scriptures come to mind: If they remain silent, these very stones will cry out (Lk 19:40). So, I joined the peaceful protest from TGIF along the Queen’s Park Savannah to the Red House. The police were quick to point out we had no pass, no shouting was permitted, and we should social distance. It’s a pity they were not so insistent on the recently held national elections.

The crowd was well behaved but continued to chant. The main speaker was eventually carted away by police but with the use of minimal force. He praised the police for doing their duty and encouraged the crowd to give them a round of applause, which they did.

Participants shouted: “We want justice. Right now!” It is hard to social distance in a walk like this, but we did the best we could. Most protestors eventually moved into Woodford Square at the behest of the police.

My concern is with the word justice. The wheels of justice turn too slowly in this country, especially so for the poor and ‘non-persons’. In many cases, not at all. No closure after many years. But what justice do the women want? For all women kidnapped, tortured, raped, and mutilated? Absolutely!

As one female protestor so aptly displayed: “If only there was a vaccine for toxic masculinity.” But at a recent departmental seminar of the archdiocese, one woman remarked: “Relationships today are toxic.” There is a toxic femininity as well, but certainly not as destructive as the kind of physical violence meted out to women.

The justice must therefore attend to the root causes of toxicity. Dr Lennox Bernard (Express, February 11) mentioned some of these, especially as they affect the poor on the rural and urban fringes.

We call these kidnappers, rapists, and murderers “monsters”. But whose “monsters” are they? They were not born that way; they were once babies in their mother’s arms, smiling at their mothers and curious onlookers. Each “monster” has a social history. I am not here appealing to a purely social determinism, as if to disregard one’s freedom to alter the course of one’s life.

French political philosopher Simone Weil felt that the key ingredient of Christian morality is empathy. To be able to feel what others feel, to walk in their shoes. We must first have empathy for the victims and their families.

Everyone must look upon Ashanti or Andrea and many others as “my daughter”. What would I do if that were “my daughter”, “my child”, “my only child”? But empathy also demands we consider the disturbing question: “What made these men ‘monsters’?”

Were there parents in the home; was their relationship toxic; was violence the norm of the day – physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual; was there mental illness, and to what degree; did they have anything to eat; did they have running water and toilet facilities; were they educated; if not, that makes them unemployed and unemployable; were they themselves victims of injustice, hurting victims who do what hurting victims do – hurt others; were they churchgoing and did their church seek them out; did social services come to their assistance; was education taken seriously in the home?

Catholic teaching calls education “a most serious duty” and a “primary right” of parents who are “ministers of their children’s education”.

If we are failing certain sections of the population, there obviously must be a social fallout. So many of them are failing themselves too.

Many say, “if they work hard, they will succeed” citing the biblical dictum: “God helps those who help themselves”. What they fail to realise is the more biblical dictum: “God helps those who are incapable of helping themselves.”

When families cannot help themselves, who does? The collectivity I would think. Social interventions of different kinds are needed. Taking responsibility for others is just as important as taking responsibility for oneself.