Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We Need To Go To Confession

We need to go to confession. OK now, I know what you’re thinking, “what do you mean we?” I’ll say it again. We need to go to confession.

I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of confession. There’s something missing in our culture, which can best be exemplified by looking at a typical criminal/attorney relationship to the law. A man commits a crime. He knows he committed the crime, his attorney knows he committed the crime, and we know he committed the crime. Somebody was hurt as a consequence of the man’s actions. The attorney essentially tells him that he is innocent unless a judge, or a jury, convicts him of the crime. Then, should he be wrongly acquitted, by judgment of the system, or even on a technicality, he is regarded by the law, by his attorney, and even by himself, as innocent. He still committed the crime, and yet by virtue of his ‘innocence’ he no longer regards himself as guilty of the action. He moves away from any personal connection to its impact on others, or his culpability in visiting that impact on them. Never having had to admit his guilt to the court, or even to himself, or to deal with any consequences related to the behavior, human nature gives him permission to continue that same behavior, and as could be predicted, he hurts somebody else.

Without acknowledgement there is no regret. Without regret there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is no change. Without change there is no redemption. When did the concept of ‘confession’ become passe’ in our culture? I believe it happened around the same time that sin became relative and irrelevant. Sin implies something unholy, unseemly, dishonest or hurtful. A more literal definition is “separation from God’. In our world, who wants to consider themselves, or their actions, unholy, unseemly, dishonest or hurtful? As we make everything relative we no longer need to feel any of those ‘negative’ things about ourselves. How convenient. But when we banish the concept of sin from our culture, and from our consciousness, we also rob ourselves of the opportunity for confession, which in turn deprives us of the process of forgiveness, change and, ultimately, redemption.

I was raised in the Catholic Church. I attended Catholic school from the first grade thru the ninth, when they asked me not to return for my sophomore year. That was OK with me (and here’s where I’ll probably offend somebody) because I always considered the Catholic Church to be the largest cult in the world. I don’t really have the population figures for that, so I could be wrong. Today it might be the ‘New Spirituality’ movement, whose only tenant seems to be ‘to judge no behavior, and to embrace anything, and everything’, except, of course, a conflicting point of view. But back to my original point. I think that the practice of confession is one of the things the Catholic Church got right. We were encouraged to go to the church once a week, go into the confessional, where a priest sat behind a screen, giving us a relative sense of privacy, while we kneeled on a cushion and told him everything we’d done wrong throughout the past week. Then the priest gave us absolution, gave us some prayers to say, and as we got up to leave he said to us “go now, and sin no more.” It’s an awesome concept.

One can argue that you don’t need to be forgiven by a priest in order to be forgiven, and I agree. One can argue that one can confess their sins directly to God, and I agree. One can even argue that we don’t need to confess our sins at all, and I agree with that as well. We can continue to carry them around with us for the rest of our lives if we choose, or we can pay a psychiatrist, or psychologist, for years on end, to help us discover the cause of our depression, our unhappiness, or our inability to move beyond the shame in which we have become stuck. We have those choices, and most of us avail ourselves of one or the other, or of a common alternative, to simply cloud the issue with drugs, or drown the memories with drink.
I remember engaging in an action that was very out of character for me, feeling terrible about it, and wishing it hadn’t happened. I did not hurt anybody else, but it hurt me. It compromised my character, and it flew in the face of my beliefs. I regretted it having happened. I called a friend, acknowledged the act, and asked his forgiveness. He forgave me my shortcoming, I determined that it would not happen again, and I felt a redemption that enabled me to continue on my path without a repetition of the behavior.

Redemption continually allows one to avoid self-destructive and addictive behaviors that are endemic to the practice of sin. This relativistic culture is not going to clue you in to that essential truth.

Whether you’re a politician selling a lie with a speech, a pseudo-enlightened and self-appointed spiritual guide selling a bogus stairway to nirvana, a thief posing as a businessman selling stock to a widow, or a rock star pushing drugs to young people with a song, . . . . . . you ought to be ashamed of yourself. I’ll say that again. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
We all have sin for which we ought to be ashamed.

And all of us, we need to go to confession.

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