St. Augustine said, “In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide you from myself, not myself from you.” Yet ours is a time in which the act of sitting quietly in a church confessional to privately confess one’s sins has fallen out of favor. In its place, we now rush to center stage to publicly virtue-signal our disgust for others’ failures. In this theatre, we repudiate whatever boogeyman rules the hour. Systemic racism and greed score very well. Pride, envy, sloth…not so much. Sexual perversion, lust, adultery? Pay no attention to our Lady’s message at Fatima: they don’t exist here.
We’ve traded out confession for its bastard brother: not a penitential reconciliation of one’s choices to God’s will but an angry denunciation of our perception of others’ deficiencies on some narrowly-chosen set of publicly-sanctioned “dos”. Mix in two parts Twitter and Instagram, leave some room for a variant where the denouncer occasionally shames himself while double-dosing the other guys, and we have a twisted re-engineering of the sacrament. It is a glaring example of “my will” over “Thy will”.
In other words, we long for redemption, but without reconciliation.
The marketing teams at the Apples and Amazons of our world know this well. Their “corporate social responsibility” charades parade under the banner of helping others, while really being a celebration of self. Google tells us, “Don’t be evil.” So, if you’re with them, you’re okay. Lock arms with the search engine and together you can publicly shun whomever you view as standing outside the circle. This frequent, alluring reminder that someone else is the problem—not you and your chums—assuages our fear of loneliness while stroking our pride’s thirst. Hate doesn’t live here; it lives at that other guy’s house.
What is this really except for a villainization of the outsider? The intemperate stoking of the public anger against the non-conformist? The disgracing of the one who refuses to bow to the woke supremacy’s totem? It’s not only a distraction from confession, it’s a distraction that compounds the need to confess.
That our biggest and most popular businesses are doing this is not even the saddest thing. That dubious distinction rests with the reality that this virtue-less virtue-signaling occurs in every corner of culture. Yesterday’s “Save Tibet” bumper sticker is today’s “In this house, we believe” yard sign. And your neighbor isn’t the only guy posting one on his front lawn. So is the town bagel shop. And the public library. And the teacher’s union-run elementary school. And the mainline church across from the park.
Even your child’s Catholic university sends out emails every other week proclaiming systemic this and systemic that. And the herding of the masses into training sessions long on Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” but curiously devoid of any mention of the Church’s teaching on the person, right relationships, and the common good.
The need for reconciliation is nothing new. Neither is the desire to avoid it. Anyone who has watched a few minutes of professional sports has seen the wayward fan hoist a “John 3:16” placard. Some of those who have seen the sign may have even checked the reference to decode the meaning:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
But how many continue reading? Or grapple with what comes next?
…This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
Whereas dysfunctional public shaming may feed our temporal desires, privately confessing one’s sin is humbling. It is hard to truly confront what we each are. And the world tells us that doing so is beneath us. Shame? What is shame? Why should I own that? My God wouldn’t want me to endure such indignity. My God wants only for me to feel good.
In his book Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher explains that such distinctions are made by those who may admire Jesus but who aren’t really interested in following him. Admirers get to think Jesus is a really nice guy who loves in the way we want to be loved. A Jesus who conforms to the way we want to orient ourselves. But this “domesticated” version of Jesus isn’t real; he doesn’t exist. After all, Jesus didn’t come to make us feel better or even to make us better fit into this world – the world we think we’ve made ours. He came to help us prepare ourselves for the next – the one He knows quite well.
Said simply, Jesus isn’t preoccupied with conforming to our world’s warped standard of nice. He is the Jesus of the cross. Who knows abandonment. Isolation. Public ridicule. Suffering. Humiliation. It is that Jesus whom admirers have neither the patience nor the fortitude to know. But it is that Jesus whom followers discover on the kneeler of the confessional.
Lent yields to Easter. Through reconciliation, the self surrenders to redemption.
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