Posts Tagged ‘confession’

OK, OK, now that we’ve all had a laugh over a Vatican bureaucrat-archbishop’s politically-correct-sounding interview, first things first: what he was really about (Latin perspective).  For further background, from other sources on the WWW, I gather that what he was doing in the first place was providing advice to priest-confessors / spiritual directors in the Latin tradition, to broaden the traditional examination of conscience to cover things Sister Mary Rose may not have covered when His Excellency was in parochial school several generations ago.  Secondarily, to his faithful as they go to confession themselves – as he wishes they’d do more of (as should we all).

(More sober treatments are, for now at least, available from the Sydney Morning Herald and Reuters.)

The media didn’t have quite as much ‘fun’ when the Latins’ new Catechism of the Catholic Church did something similar over a decade ago, adding speeding and other such “modern” *  things to moral considerations.  As I recall they treated it as just a small, quirky highlight of a very long and detailed book about everything a Latin (or even an Eastern Catholic – with more Eastern Christian ‘flavor’ peppered-into it than we’d ever seen before) needs to believe in order to be saved (as they believe).

Someone with 6 years of graduate Western religious studies 😉 might like to say that this suggestion from Rome is indeed somewhat new, not altogether out of line with recent developments in Western moral theology regarding what it calls social sins or structural evil.  British United Reformed hymnwriter Dr. Brian Wren even penned one that conveys some of the idea:

1. Not only acts of evil will,
but bland routine and good intent,
can hurt and harass, starve and kill
the outcast and the innocent.
  In such a world, and in God’s name,
  we seek a gospel to proclaim.

2. Our normal, ordinary ways
of doing business, getting more,
entrap the poorest in a maze
of hunger, debt, disease and war.
  In Christ we would make good our claim,
  and find a gospel to proclaim.

(Speaking of which[!], you can look at the whole text at his copyright administrators Hope Publishing Company, but when they say you can agree to download one copy free and easy for personal use, they don’t mean you can save the HTML on your hard drive – it’ll hose your browser like it just did mine!  [All open tabs and windows!  Thank goodness WordPress auto-saves drafts.]  But they don’t bar highlighting and copying the text … for now.  BTW, I’m considering this truncated quotation an acceptable use under usual copyright laws; I even recommend his stuff for purchase by non-Orthodox choirs and congregations, so consider this a review.)

Not to mention someone with a background as an oppressed Irish Catholic [849 years, Your Majesty!], a Native American, a political and investigative reporter, a local labor union leader, and in Liberation Theology.

But I would be wrong to think this sort of thing is new, merely counter to stereotype, where we focus on personal failings in areas like sex, stealing, lying, cheating, killing, hurting, betraying – the stuff of the party game Scruples.  Important stuff, stuff that’s often hard not to do, a challenge!  But written Examinations of Conscience or Preparations for Confession have been ‘expanding upon’ or ‘contextualizing’ Commandments, Vices, and other violations for centuries.  ‘Ya haven’t killed anyone lately, but have you killed their reputation?’ etc.  And before that, you still had priests questioning penitents, especially if they seemed reluctant to come clean.

As pointed out, some of the specific things mentioned this week were technologically impossible not long ago, but variations on older temptations.  Other things, like contributing to social injustice, may have felt – rightly or wrongly – largely out of the reach of most laity in past eras, but most Christian Churches have frequently counseled rulers about this.  Today, with voting and rapid transit, not to mention the Internet(!), the average lay Christian in much of the world may sin against many times more people than in former times.

As the context of Confession points out, and as Orthodoxy emphasizes even more, it’s not just about resisting temptation, but repenting of sinfulness, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary (scroll down to last paragraph).  The perfect Latin is considered possible, as I recently implied, if highly doubtful; and some Protestant groups at least historically believed in some form of perfectibility in life.  But in Orthodoxy we have the frequently-told tales of the saintliest of monastics on their deathbeds worrying sincerely – though not unhealthily – that they haven’t even begun to repent, and the monastic Father who, when asked what they do all day, replied, “We fall down and get up, fall down and get up, fall down and get up.”  “Orthodox aren’t perfect, just repentant.”  Seeming to successfully resist temptation can tempt to and induce pride, the deadliest sin of all; better to remember that we can never repent enough to divinize ourselves – repenting is merely the best preparation for God to do it.  And what happens then?  An even greater sense of our own sinfulness, of our responsibility for the sins of all humanity, even praying for the devil (they say) and seeking to refrain from killing bugs.  “New sins”?  We’ll probably never run out of sins!  But increased sensitizedness?  Even if it’s driven by news media like some of the archbishop’s seem to be – and as journalists say, “The news is usually bad” – is that a bad thing?  Is God unconcerned?  Brian Wren says no.

But consult your priest or spiritual parent.

(*–Who was the guy in the Old Testament who could be identified by watchmen while still several miles away from a fortress “because he drives like a maniac”?!!  I swear I read that exact phrase in a supposedly reputable translation a decade or two ago!)

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