Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Audacity of Reconciliation

"We're all in the same boat.  And we're all seasick"
- G. K. Chesterton
It seems to me, that of all the various aspects of human existence, most obvious is the fact that human beings are capable of evil (which also necessitates that they be capable of doing good, but that's a different story).  A look at the 20th century serves to demonstrate this point.  It is of little question by nearly anyone that the acts of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, and others were nothing short of atrocious.

However, it seems that, while many people denounce the great evils of modern society (genocide, discrimination, poverty, war, greed, etc.) they are very reluctant to admit that they themselves have committed any such evil.  They may say "Yeah, I've made some mistakes" or "Of course I've made bad choices" but they almost always find ways to rationalize their behavior as either acceptable or insignificant.
Seems innocent enough, but the
ripples spread farther than
you know

For example, while a person may feel that sex slavery is wrong (and it most certainly is), they feel rather blameless in indulging their lusts in pornography and other immoral sexual behaviors.   There seems to be a missing link in people's minds; they fail to see that the widespread prevalence of individual occasions of "petty" sin accumulates to create a morally tepid culture that fails to stop our truly glaring evils.

However, I cannot fully press this on the culture.  Part of this phenomenon seems to be written into human nature.  You see, we were never made for sin.  Sin is, although ancient, artificial to humanity.  We were made to be creatures inundated by grace, but in the fall of our parents, we were introduced to a dysfunction.
"It's just one bite of the fruit,
how bad could it be?"

You see, Sin is not just our big, genocidal-scale evils.  Most times, Sin is very, very simple.  Sin can be defined as simply as the division of the self.  We see Sin as great social injustices, but it starts and finishes in the heart, where we find ourselves saying "It's not that bad." and "How much harm can __________ cause?"  (A lot, actually.)

Sin is our unfortunate (and artificial) reality, and yet, we know we weren't made to be flawed beings.  We're made for God, to be perfect like God.  And we know this intuitively; no one wants to accept the fact that they are not perfect.

However, rather than eating the proverbial frog and saying "Yup, I've screwed up," we seem to deny that what we did was evil in the first place, and we find ourselves in the awkward position of justifying abortion and condemning Hitler's Holocaust, when they are much closer to each other than many care to admit.  We'll  admit the existence of evil, but never in ourselves.

This is where the genius of Reconciliation is necessary, and at the same time, so very, very hard.  Many people complain about having to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation because "I don't want to tell my sins to a priest.  I tell them directly to God."  Which is nice and all, and very well intentioned, except it really doesn't work.  You see, when we try to confess directly to God, unless we're on near-prophetic terms with him, we don't have much assurance in the matter.  Yeah, I might say "God, I've done X, Y, and Z this week, forgive me," but more often than not, I usually end up justifying or diminishing my sins into a far off realm of inconsequentiality.  Unless I am on near angelic terms with God, I don't experience the same humbling penitence as when I sit across from my spiritual director and say "Father, since my last confession, I've sinned against God in ways X, Y, and Z."

But we need that experience.  Our sins, even our so-called "private" sins have a negative effect on the rest of the world.  We don't just owe an act of penitence towards God, but also to each other.  We need to understand our part in humanity's predicament with sin; we need to understand that we're very much part of the problem.  In our accountability to a priest, we find ourselves faced with the divine and human consequence of sin.  We face the reality that we're imperfect people, uncomfortable as it may be.

However, the true beauty of Reconciliation is that, in the recognition and repentance of our imperfection, we are freed from that burden.  If I choose to try and rationalize my sins away, I may feel a little better, but its only dirt under the rug.  Only in the honest, earnest, and humbling encounter of Reconciliation can we come face to face with both the reality of sin and the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ.

To me, reconciliation illuminates the Chesterton quote we started with.  You and I, we are human, and like it or not, we're in this together.  Even further so, we're all sick with sin.  Thus, we have the option of hiding our sins behind cheaply constructed rationalizations, waiting for them to eventually overwhelm us like an impending zombie apocalypse.
This is what happens to your soul when you rationalize.
Don't rationalize.
 So go to Reconciliation, admit to God, to the priest, and to yourself that you, like everyone else, have sinned.  Its a rather refreshing feeling to know that you're no different than the rest of the world, and even more refreshing to know that mercy and grace are waiting for you when you get there.

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