Word Magazine March 1996 Page 9
By Archpriest Antony Gabriel
On the advice of parishioners and friends, I am writing to share with the readers of The Word, the following observation:
In both official Archdiocesan statements, as well as the report from the Task Force on the Twenty-first Century, that have been disseminated in The Word and elsewhere, there has been an emphasis on the reinstitution of the formal aspect of the Sacrament of Penance — oral confession.
This is vital for one to uncover the deepest mystery of the human personality (and if properly used, could save many psychiatric visits). The current fascination with TV talk shows and their popularity is evidence that people need to “confess”. The fundamental question for this report on the 20th century is: What is the nature of sin? What does one confess?
How or why one does or does not confess is contingent on the sense of what constitutes sin or separation from God. Is sin the loss of communion with Christ, i.e., the absence of God? In the context of the 20th Century, what do we mean: confess your sins?
We live in a society which emphasizes our “humanness” — which implies the acceptability of any variety of human behavior, that previously might have been frowned upon. As an example, how many couples live together prior to marriage? This was anathema a few years ago. Dostoyevsky prophetically wrote: “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permissible”. The Twentieth Century has a new affirmation, and that is, “God has little or nothing to do with my life.” Our youth are seduced by the relentless pursuit of fun and pleasure, by unbridled sexual experimentation. Humans have been reduced to “objects” to be sold on the latest fad.
Utilitarianism, using someone’s mind (cults) or body (sexual promiscuity), is the ultimate 20th Century sins! God did not create us for utilitarianism, He created us for love.
The definition of “who we are” is turned upside down to what “we have”. Consumerism has achieved this very effectively. We are “labeled” simply as products, for others to use and discard.
In my opinion, it is imperative that the Church of today, if it is to truly be “relevant” to our situation, must begin with enlightening parents and children, that there is something drastically wrong in a society that morally justifies every sort of lifestyle, deviation or materialistic pursuit of happiness. One young man I know printed posters with all sorts of images of success with the by-line “Ten reasons for an Education”. Is worldly success and status then the goal of our lives?
Confession becomes viable only when there is an awareness that there is something amiss in my life! Self-gratification mitigates a humble approach to the loving God who embraces us in forgiveness. If egocentrism has so absorbed my consciousness, how can I appropriately turn to God and say “I’m sorry”, or even acknowledge a broken personal relationship with a family member or friend?
I taught a course on Eastern Orthodox Mysticism for five years at McGill University. This past year I began reflecting as to the effectiveness of this course. It finally dawned on me that many of my students are seeking the exotic and therefore, rejected much of what was taught. We surely did not speak the same language. I spoke about the search for an objective Truth, and they were looking for instant gratification of one sort or another. Their concept of morality was subjective. The consciousness of right or wrong, good or evil, love and hate, sex and lust, etc., was determined by their own limited life experiences, in addition to the non-morals passed on by their parents!
With so many children in North America being raised in single parent homes, so many dysfunctional families, media hype, and super hero lifestyles, how can we expect young people to be scripted properly? Even the Christian churches of the West have enveloped themselves in a moral blur, and subsequently capitulated.
Someone once remarked that an “insensitive soul is already a corpse”. It is evident to me that we are at a critical juncture in the history of human evolution. With all the so-called advances in science and technology, we have returned to a new kind of barbarism in which we are clubbing one another to death. I believe mankind has “de-evolved”. Other signposts are the decline of sexual morality, the rapid spread of Internet pornography, and the rapid rise of teenage killers. The human person is devalued as a result.
To Church leaders on all levels, parents and parishioners, I stress that the renewal of the Church can only take place on a personal level. It begins with you and me bearing ultimate responsibility for our life and our actions. We must pass truth and love on to our children. Confession of sin becomes a reality when one realizes we fall short of the glory of God or that we are in a state of ungodliness. A whole generation of young people have been raised in an almost completely different moral setting than their elders. With utmost care and patience, we must teach the virtue of “No” to pseudo-attractive worldly values, and say “Yes” to becoming pilgrims of the Kingdom. Confession and repentance become meaningful when one takes accountability for his/her life in Christ, not just “oops, I made an error in judgment.”
Let’s get started! A massive void needs to be filled by loving and nurturing religious leaders, teachers and parents. Without resorting to literal fundamentalism of the extreme right, young people must be imbued with that consciousness of having “missed the mark” (or, in the words of C.S. Lewis, to have become “bent”) when we use each other as objects!
The devil dribbles away … let us not succumb by looking for him in a strip joint, he has conquered this terrain already. Look for him in those holy spaces in which he wishes to distract us by diminishing that which is pure and good! The beginning of awareness is when we have the freedom to perceive the devil’s power, however enticing or sweet, and to say “No”!
Faith in the 21st Century urgently needs to be bolstered by a realistic critique as to what makes us as a society “tick”. Anything less, would be only skimming the surface. The heart of the issue is this:
Who is setting the agenda of the Church’s life, “the world” or the Gospel?
Father Antony Gabriel is the pastor of St. George Church in Montreal, Quebec.