Saturday, March 02, 2013

Confession is good for the soul


From Brother Ivo:

It is certainly good for the career, if the modern response to public shame is to be believed. To contemplate the secularisation of confession, you may choose from any number of examples from Bill Clinton, through Tiger Woods, to Lance Armstrong. Being publicly shamed has not hurt many such wealthy transgressors, which is in stark contrast to the way these things were dealt with in earlier days.

Brother Ivo draws attention to these names, not to embarrass or heap fresh opprobrium upon them, but to highlight how confession has shifted from its sacramental roots to a a subset of the PR industry. It is now a necessary part of 'reputation management', and the high point of of the modern process for redemption is the television sofa confession, preferably to Oprah - tears optional.

Once a celebrity has scaled that mountain he (it is usually 'he') may appeal to us to 'turn the page', to allow them to complete their 'journey' and, of course, if they are lucky, to be free to sign new contracts based upon the newly-acquired higher media profile.

The superficiality of this all is breathtaking.

Paradoxically, those of us who profess a faith, and who engage in quiet confession on a weekly basis, ideally preceded by a degree of sincere internal reflection, are often considered unhealthily 'weird'.

Self-awareness, as opposed to self-promotion, seems odd to so many in this modern age. One half expects the call to confession in our churches to be interrupted by the scuffle of newcomers fumbling for their mobile phones in their haste to call their solicitor.

Confession is always slightly uncomfortable, and a disinclination to accept responsibility for our actions adds to the cultural resistance to a religious practice that many struggle to understand, much less accept.

The difference between religious confession, as opposed to public-media confession, is that in the former you are actually supposed to mean it.

Brother Ivo genuinely and unequivocally believes in that old adage that confession is good for the soul, so please bear with him as he explores why we do it.

The first thing to say may surprise non-believers. It is for our benefit, not God's. He is not to be pictured smiling, watching us squirm. The short of it is that God already knows our sins; He has numbered them as precisely as He can number the hairs on our heads. Even more surprising is that within our understanding Jesus has already paid the price for them. The deal has been closed, and all that is happening is that our Lord awaits our our arrival to claim our inheritance.

Very often the only one seemingly not in on the secret is ourself!

Brother Ivo was recently part of a ministry team which decided to offer a series of sermons 'unpacking' the constituent parts of the Communion Service for old and new church members alike, and volunteered to preach on confession as it is a difficult subject in modern society.

The illustration offered was in the form of a question: which of us, on being told that a well-wisher had settled our gas bill, would keep on paying the standing order? Why would anyone want to pay a gas bill twice?

It is an everyday example but it makes the point. If we tell God what is on our account, and own our share of the sins of the world, gratefully claiming the gift of forgiveness that is offered for sincerity, then we can receive his forgiveness in the absolution that always and reliably follows true and unfeigned repentance.

It works, but it requires honesty, integrity, and, unlike its secular pale equivalent, there is an expectation that we shall follow that repentance through not only with the intention of leading a 'godly, righteous and sober life', but also that God will 'forgive us our trespasses - as we forgive those who trespass against us'. 'Go and do thou likewise' applies to forgiveness as well as to charitable action.

The problem, of course, is that many of us are as addicted to sin as any substance abuser: we shall be back next week with a conscience laden with more shortcomings. Even in the most godly of Church circles, few would dare suggest skipping confession.

After the sermon had been preached, an elderly friend approached, partly troubled, partly relieved. As a young soldier in colonial times he had been sent out to buy provisions in a local market and had bartered the price down to rock bottom before buying from an old woman. It wasn't even his money and he had ever since been conscience-stricken, wishing in later years that he could have located her and sent a supportive gift in reparation, though this was impossible.

He must have confessed many, many times, yet somehow even His Grace's finely drafted absolution had never quite reached him.

It was the Gas Bill wot did it! (as The Sun might have proclaimed).

Rather more elegantly, Brother Ivo was able to emphasise the words of a hymn: 'Oh my Saviour lifted', which ends with the clearest conclusion:
Bringing all my burdens Sorrow sin and care At thy feet I lay them And I leave them there.
Yet it is also good if confession and the acceptance of absolution results in an encouragement to others to follow that path towards grace.

One of the last public figures to truly embrace the transforming power of genuine confession was the late John Profumo. I need not dwell on his fall from grace: I much prefer to honour his response to disgrace, which was to withdraw from public life to devote himself to charitable works of Toynbee Hall in the East End. He volunteered to clean the toilets and later became their chief fundraiser. His rehabilitation was marked many years later by the granting of a richly-deserved CBE.

It was good that the Queen was able to follow the example of the Lord in rewarding 'thou good and faithful servant'.

If only that example were offered to every simpering celebrity seeking instant forgiveness. But we have lost the language and underlying theory of repentance, confession, absolution, penance and redemption, and we are the poorer for it.

There is another fallen celebrity from earlier years whose acceptance of responsibility was both noble, instructive, and largely overlooked. Oscar Wilde had a glittering career in the public eye, dancing on the edge of disaster until he was foolhardy enough to sue the Marquis of Queensbury for defamation after he was accused by him of of 'posing as a sodomite'.

He sued for defamation, such was his over-confidence in the light of an adoring public which thought little of the Marquis, a known bully and wife-beater.

Wilde was winning the verbal jousts with the legendary Edward Carson QC until, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, pride precipitated a catastrophic fall from public favour. One should never pick a fight with professionals on their home turf.

Brother Ivo commends the book he wrote after imprisonment - De Profundis - in which, unlike so many of today's disgraced figures, he explored, accepted and wrote about that fall from grace. Though it is not specifically religious, the thinking, language and preoccupation is of viewing the past through the prism of faith: it was the only way he could make sense of his fate and he was greatly enriched by it.

Pity the poor celebrity of today, cheated of all that makes sense of disgrace, fast-tracked to meaningless forgiveness, and utterly cheated of the opportunity to be improved by it.

'For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

23 Comments:

Blogger DanJ0 said...

Ivo: "After the sermon had been preached, an elderly friend approached, partly troubled, partly relieved. As a young soldier in colonial times he had been sent out to buy provisions in a local market and had bartered the price down to rock bottom before buying from an old woman. It wasn't even his money and he had ever since been conscience-stricken, wishing in later years that he could have located her and sent a supportive gift in reparation, though this was impossible."

One of the positives of *not* moving on from that is the likelihood that he won't be inclined to do it again. There are many things I'd love to undo, or at best make direct reparation for, but I know I can't. It doesn't make it any better that I doubt most of those involved even remember my bad behaviour.

2 March 2013 at 10:34  
Blogger Nick said...

DanJ0

Of course many people will have forgotten, even forgiven our sins against them, but it appears the man in the story had not forgotten his own sin, and was genuinely troubled by it. Many of us are probably in similar situation.

As YG says, repentance is for our benefit, though sometimes reparation to the victim is also appropriate. The alternative is to develop an attitude of self-justification over the issue ("I had good reason to do it", or "I was young and didn't know better"), but this hardening of the conscience is even more likely to lead to moral amnesia and a repeat of the same sin.

As to public confession, we know the motives of these people, they want popularity, not forgiveness. Pity really, because a truly absolved consicence, as described by YG, is a wonderfully liberating thing.

2 March 2013 at 10:58  
Blogger Phil Roberts said...

Chuck Colson

http://www.prisonfellowship.org/

If you ever hear him speak.

Listen to WHY these guys end up in prison.

Two words

No fathers

Phil

2 March 2013 at 10:59  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Nick, you appear to have just reiterated what I said myself.

2 March 2013 at 11:35  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Excellent article. Sums up the total superficiality of this aspect of those who " get with the project ", in the words of that most profound modern thinker The Prime Minister.

The real challenge to us Archbishop Cranmer reading types , is how the hell do we slow down, stop and then put onto a different course, the endless mindlessness of modern non - thought and the whole heedless, evidence ignoring nature of our current chaos ? Rather than just mutter into our Prayer Books, rosaries or what have you, or even risk the occasional sermon to the few faithful , how is the current madness going to be stopped ?

2 March 2013 at 12:02  
Blogger Cressida de Nova said...

10:34
Sounds like you are missing the limelight.I think the best reparation you can make considering you are almost solely responsible for getting Dodo banished from this blog is to disappear.
You can take comfort in the fact that your supporters who sing your praise (Carl, Bluedog and Ernst) will no doubt miss your graphic depictions of homosexual sex and your obscene utterances. You will always be remembered for your savage attacks at the gutter level.

2 March 2013 at 12:53  
Blogger Preacher said...

Brother Ivo.
"Quiet confession on a WEEKLY basis?" You are either a living saint or you live a very sheltered life. Or I can honestly say with Paul that I must be the chief of sinners. Personally I find that to keep a short 'tab' for me, requires a daily erasing on the debit side of living.

Blessings. Preacher.

2 March 2013 at 13:03  
Blogger Corrigan said...

Hey, I thought Ivo kicked with the wrong foot; either I was misinformed or he's so high church he's looking down on St Peter's. Confession on a weekly basis? Even I don't do that, and I'm a heaving, sweating, filth-spreading mound of anti-Semitic Catholic ignorance (have I got that right, Hannah?); c'mon, Ivo, jump the Tiber, man - you know it makes sense!

2 March 2013 at 13:23  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

There's also some value in exposing one's own shame in public, rather than just in the confessional. Carrying a secret shame can be quite destructive, I expect. Moreover, if it is eventually exposed then the consequences will probably be worse.

2 March 2013 at 13:40  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Bravo Ivo, another thought provoking post from you. One is sure you will be pleased that self auditing types like the Inspector already consider the possibility of needing to confess before they act. Ideally, never be in a position where you need to Realise what you have done. To Regret it, and most importantly to make Reparation for it, as much as reparation is possible.

There is always the possibility that you need to apologies directly to God and to seek divine and immediate forgiveness. Catholics do that through a male priest. Has to be a male you know. A woman can keep a secret so long as she can pass it on to just one other woman, and thus the whole world knows of your failings. A powerful argument against women priests if a further argument was required, and it most certainly is not, what !

2 March 2013 at 15:04  
Blogger Corrigan said...

Good point, Inspector! To a woman, keeping a secret means not telling a man; of course, she'll tell every woman she meets since, by the inscrutable workings of female logic, telling another woman is not the same as breaking a confidence.

2 March 2013 at 15:21  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Cressie

A fair objective look at the facts should suffice, my dear.

"...I think the best reparation you can make considering you are almost solely responsible for getting Dodo banished from this blog is to disappear ( Dodo stubbornly brought it upon himself by launching an attack on HG because of a lack of being able to rouse a strong argument for his comment. He has done this countless times without prodding from others, especially not Danjo!)

You can take comfort in the fact that your supporters who sing your praise (Carl, Bluedog and Ernst) will no doubt miss your graphic depictions of homosexual sex and your obscene utterances.( When has this ever occurred except in your vain imaginings. He is intelligent despite his glorying in his failings as Ernst has pointed out. This is not praise of sin, is it)"

To know when to remain silent is more profitable than ending up as blog pot roast...yes?

Ernst,, my lass

2 March 2013 at 16:08  
Blogger Youthpasta said...

Preacher, I think Ivo might be referring to the confession in the Anglican service as the weekly bit.

2 March 2013 at 18:35  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

I'm a heaving, sweating, filth-spreading mound of anti-Semitic Catholic ignorance..." (Corrigan)

Gosh. And quite the boastful self-flatter too.

3 March 2013 at 02:01  
Blogger Cressida de Nova said...

"when has this ever occured except in your vain imaginings"

It says a lot about you Ernst that you do not remember the incidents... either that or you are a liar.I t would not matter any way because you have never conceded that I am not Dodo even though you have been offered proof!

The relevant posts may or may not be deleted. I am not going to dig for them but I know others will remember the incidents...but will adopt your cowardly suggestion

" to know when to remain silent is more profitable than ending up as blog pot roast..Yes? "

NO.That is not the Christian way.

Your emphasis on self interest "profitable" comes before everything that should count for a Christian like telling the truth.

It has just occured to me that this blog may be have been cynically set up ( by allowing you and your ilk on here ) to foster anti Christian sentiment rather than just anti Catholic sentiment.

3 March 2013 at 02:47  
Blogger Harry-ca-Nab said...

"Enjoyed" the diatribe on "Hope & Change" in the CofE (at 13:30 mins into the piece) aimed at Justin Welby from that strange woman, Canon Rosie Harper, to whom God is a She, who celebrates "tolerance" whilst referring the opinions of people opposed to gay marriage as "vomit inducing and utterly shameful" and objects to the completely correct and lawful outcome from the vote on women bishops...

She objects to special interest groups (excepting her own I guess) and lists a load of social projects he should be involved in yet doesn't seem to have much to say about church teaching.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r09sm

Worth a listen - though it may be somewhat "vomit inducing and utterly shameful".

Enjoy.

3 March 2013 at 10:21  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Cressie

"It says a lot about you Ernst that you do not remember the incidents..( That is because they have never occurred!).

" I am not going to dig for them but I know others will remember the incidents." (Who might these 'others' be.)

"" to know when to remain silent is more profitable than ending up as blog pot roast..Yes? " (Ad Hominem attacks are signs of weakness in argument..i.e. that you have no argument that can hold water, so personal it must be!).

"Your emphasis on self interest "profitable" comes before everything that should count for a Christian like telling the truth." (It is nothing to do with self interest but vanity to think you can launch continual personal attacks on another's blog when the term of reference mentioned is Roman Catholicism and come away unscathed. It's called common sense, not 'brave sacrifice' and personal unfounded attacks has no bearing so alleged to telling the truth").

"It has just occured to me that this blog may be have been cynically set up ( by allowing you and your ilk on here ) to foster anti Christian sentiment rather than just anti Catholic sentiment." (Anti Christian? Ad Hominem..How droll!!. H G lets all speak on his blog (Which is defined religio-political) and has asked for generosity in argument tempered with the bottom line that "it may simply be that he considers them to be intelligent and erudite contributions to religio-political discourse...or not." Ernst is a christian but not an RC, so would never be anti christian. The church Ernst attends is irrelevant by and large whereas yours is self defining. Obviously you are a roman catholic first, hence all others who are christian are 'separated' and loosely, a christian second, N'EST-CE PAS?) Simples.

Happy diggings.

Blowers

3 March 2013 at 10:26  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Well done that Harry...

The "vomit inducing and utterly shameful" views of bishop-girl with the winning smile Rosie Harper could do with more prominence. Ivo, meat for a future thread, do you think ?

One expects ALL would be feline bishops are back passage advocates. How can they not be - it’s the law of the discriminated against. They all huddle up together. Mutual body heat, if you will. Appalling thoughts come to mind on that one, sure we all agree on that, what !

By the way, what about lady would be bishops who are as ugly as sin itself. Doesn’t seem fair that just because you are a size 16 with a face like a man’s behind, there is no campaigning group for you...

3 March 2013 at 11:26  
Blogger len said...

If the only purpose of our confession is to' wipe the slate clean'so that we can 'carry on as before' then little of lasting value will be learned from it.

With a Christian' confession' should have an entirely different objective.
Although(hopefully) we have been redeemed,' born again',we are (as Paul describes it) in 'a race', a journey, a struggle as we continue towards our goal. We might fall many times, but we get up and continue , we are ridiculed, we are persecuted but we continue. 'But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.'(2 Corinthians 4)

The purpose of' confession' in the case of a Christian is that we see the weaknesses within ourselves we do not deny them but we press on knowing that Christ is being formed in us.

It is important that Christians do not deny their 'shortcomings' but can see beyond them.

3 March 2013 at 11:31  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Len, indeed. As someone who has more than his fair share of shortcomings, and whose weakness is all too obvious, your own passage through life, and your continuing falling and picking yourself up, is an inspiration to us all.

Have you given the cats their dinner ?


3 March 2013 at 11:45  
Blogger len said...

Certainly Inspector.(after picking myself up ....yet again.)

3 March 2013 at 18:12  
Blogger len said...

Many embark on the Christian life then because of some sin or other decide that they cannot live up to expectations regarding living a 'Holy Life' and give up altogether or they continue'living the Christian life 'but they become 'hypocrites'in the sense that they know that they are sinning but put a 'Christian face' on things much as an actor playing a part.
God knows we (as Christians ) will sin but there is a process of confessing, repenting,and moving forward 'towards the goal'which is Christ being formed in us.This is Gods intention for Christians that He(Christ) must increase and we must decrease.This is a process aptly described by John Bunyan (well known for his book The Pilgrim's Progress.)

3 March 2013 at 19:05  
Blogger Hannah Kavanagh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3 March 2013 at 19:55  

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