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)