Omitting, texting sins

Image result for texting while driving

[re-post 2014 — a pre-Lenten re-examination of my conscience. Kyrie eleison.]

Recently, my wife and I watched a documentary with our children on texting and driving, From One Second To The Next. It detailed the heart-wrenching stories of victims and victimizers whose lives were turned upside down by one person’s decision to text while driving. It withered any temptation I may have had in me to text while I drive.

It reminded me of a Sunday homily I heard several years ago in Chicago by a priest who spoke of what he called “the sins I am surprised I never hear confessed.” It was a really sobering homily. He highlighted two sins that are, he said, “especially conspicuous for their absence from Confession.” Here’s some of what he said (as I wrote in my journal later).

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… It’s crucial that we also consider the ways we have failed to do what we can, or ought to do when circumstances call for action. For example, sometimes we’re obliged to speak up for someone when they’re not there to defend themselves. We often sin in this way through cowardice — afraid to face the awkwardness, or get criticized or shunned. Or maybe it’s just laziness, just too much investment of energy for us to be confrontational. Or again, maybe we value others’ approval over what we know is right and can’t stomach the thought that they might not think well of us. And maybe we even laugh at or join their ridicule or slander or gossip.

As people of faith we see that in these cases it is Christ whom we deny in them, Christ that we slander or fail to defend. He is always identified with the victim of every sin and injustice, he’s present in every person unfairly maligned. And he looks to us, the members of His Body, to come to His defense. Christ takes very personally what is done or not done for the least of His brethren. Here, the implications of Matthew 25 are much greater than feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty — and Matthew 25 makes clear to us judgement is primarily about the sins of omission. “Whatever you failed to do to the least of these, you failed to do to me…”

Then he took a surprising direction in his homily, one I’d never heard preached. He said:

But one of the most surprising omissions in Confession is the sin of breaking traffic laws, reckless driving. Did you know the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air”?

Grave guilt! Let me ask you — but please don’t raise your hand! [laughter] — how many of you have sped, had too much alcohol and then gotten behind a wheel, texted while you were driving, blown through stop lights or done other irresponsible things while driving? And how many of you have confessed this to the Lord in His Sacrament of Reconciliation?

If you haven’t, I’ll be available after Mass for at least an hour.

These things are, the Church tells us unequivocally, grave matter. “Graviter” in Catechism’s Latin,- which means it’s a most serious matter, the matter for mortal sin. In fact, the Catechism takes it so seriously that it places these things under the 5th commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”

Jesus says harboring anger against your brother in your heart is already the capital crime of murder. But the Catechism adds this: Reckless driving contains an implicit consent to murder. So it can, in this sense, already be considered murder. Whether you get caught by the cops or on camera is absolutely irrelevant.

I beg you, as your father in Christ, respect life by driving safely. Be a witness to temperance and justice, call others to be accountable and responsible. Maybe put a “Choose Life” bumper sticker on your car so that you become more conscious of being a witness to others. If someone sees you texting and driving, and then sees your bumper sticker, they may wonder: “Whose life are you choosing?”

You are your brother and sister’s keeper, a disciple of Christ the giver of life.

There’s a stunning bumper sticker I’ve seen, “Honk if you love Jesus! Text if you want to meet Him!” [laughter]. But here I would add on a much more serious note that for me, well, I would not want my last deed before entering the presence of Christ the Judge to be texting in the violation of the 5th commandment. Destroying lives, and my own, all to send a stupid text.

It’s a very powerful human skill to rationalize sin away. And especially to rationalize reckless driving away. I’m exempt. I can handle it. Just this once. Nothing’s gonna happen. The families of victims of traffic accidents caused by texting or drinking or disregarding traffic laws would have much to say to you in reply. As would the Lord.

So I encourage you: Go to Confession if you haven’t and unburden your sins before our merciful Lord, the Lover of life. And then, choose life every time you get behind the wheel.

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If you can, the ~35 minute film is worth the watch. With your family, friends. But it is graphic.

Kindly Light, online

In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a still, small voice” (1 Kg 19:11-12). We need to trust in the fact that the basic human desire to love and to be loved, and to find meaning and truth, keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman called the “kindly light” of faith. — Pope Benedict XVI

The kindly light. What a magnificent phrase Newman coined to express the spirit of the Christian who refracts the splendor of divine Light into the darkness. How desperately the digital world needs such kindly polished prisms these days.

What the Pope argues here is that the universal human desire for love, meaning and truth finds in the digital world a privileged forum for the discovery of Love, Truth and Meaning incarnate, Jesus Christ, in the words and witness of those who bear His Name. For the Christian, every word, every action, every image contains the potential to influence for good or ill, to reveal or conceal God, to consecrate or desecrate digital space. I think here of Matthew 12:36:

I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter.

This reminds of a colorful story from the life of that fool for Christ, St. Philip Neri, who once offered a woman a creative penance for her sin of spreading malicious gossip. He instructed her to take a feather pillow to the top of the church bell-tower, rip it open, and scatter the feathers into the open air. Then he asked her to come down from the bell-tower after she had emptied the pillow of its contents and collect all the feathers that had dispersed throughout the town. The impossibility of completing this penance is, he said, a parable of the irretrievable damage she inflicts on others each time she chooses to spread gossip.

I find a simple way to judge my impact on the world under my influence is to examine whether or not my words and deeds appear to cultivate and communicate the fruits of the Holy Spirit:

Love
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Gentleness
Faith
Modesty
Self-control
Chastity

When I served with the Missionaries of Charity, we would pray this prayer written by St. John Henry Newman every day. It remains in me as a perpetual examination of conscience, and seems a fitting conclusion to these scattered thoughts…

Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through us and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel Your presence in our souls.
Let them look up, and see no longer us, but only Jesus!

Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as You shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be ours.
It will be You, shining on others through us.

Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You without preaching, not by words but by example,
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear for You.

Amen.

 

Let your light shine

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. — Matthew 5:16

I thought I would share just a few of the many things I have jotted down in my journal these last weeks, tales of quiet acts of beauty, kindness and selfless sacrifice that have crossed my immediate field of vision. In truth, they are limitless these days…

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A person I know who could not go into the room of a COVID-19 patient in critical condition stayed up all night outside the building beneath the patient’s room and prayed.

A man I know who is a closely tied to a parish and its core leadership turned down an offer to be permitted into the small circle of those allowed to attend the Triduum liturgies and suggested another parishioner in his place who was feeling especially low and alone those days.

A woman I know mails fun cards every day to different elderly people she knows who live alone, to cheer them up, and in the card tells them to call her to chat.

On Easter morning, people in about 8 or 9 cars formed an ‘Easter parade’ and drove through our local neighborhoods with tethered balloons flying above the cars, with men and women sitting in their open windows, honking their horns and yelling loudly, “Happy Easter!”

My son was in line at a drive-through restaurant and when he got to the window to pick up his order, the cashier said, “The person in front of you just paid your bill. They said, ‘Today is a great day for me and I want you to have one too!'”

The students in one of my classes at the seminary sent me a beautiful thank you card, expressing their gratitude for my teaching them consistently throughout all the changes and helping bring to them a sense of normalcy in quarantine.

A woman who knew our daughter was missing all the ‘lasts’ of her final month of High School sent her an Amazon gift card with a beautiful note of encouragement.

A priest I know walks early each morning through as many of the neighborhoods of his parish territory as he can, praying the rosary for them all.

There’s a medical professional I heard about who sleeps in his car after work so as to not risk exposing his family to possible infection, and showers at work.

A woman who periodically gives up sleep at night as a ‘fast’ and to ask God for strength for those who have to work exceptionally long shifts throughout the nights because of the crisis.

Hamilton and other acts of kindness

We are now entering the great days of awe and mystery, of power and of hope as God descends into death for us. This afternoon, after I finished work, at my wife’s behest I watched John Krasinski’s latest “Some Good News.” Before stepping into the Triduum, I thought I would share it (in case you have not seen it) as a shaft of light, a sunburst of goodness…

What does this pandemic mean?

What does this pandemic mean in the light of God’s providence? Why has He permitted this? What is God saying? These kinds of questions are, naturally, found everywhere among people of faith these days. And quite a number of people have freely posed very specific answers that betray extraordinary access to the mind of God. I myself would never venture such stunning certitudes.

But we can draw some general conclusions that our faith in Christ offers us. Let me offer just one.

Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism #412 says, “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.” Joseph of Egypt said something quite similar when he addressed his brothers, who had years before tried to kill him and then sold him as a slave: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (Gen. 50:20).

This does not imply that God needs or uses evil as some blunt instrument in His hands to get out of it something better, which would make God an accomplice to evil. God never intends evil directly, but only permits it to emerge in His creation in view of His will and power to draw from it some greater good that, in the end, will be ultimately victorious. For the Christian, if you want to really see how God views evil, look to the End of the Ages. As David Bentley Hart put it,

Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave.

And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and, in such a world, our portion is charity.

Yes, as divine-image bearers in creation, our God-given portion in this “valley of tears” is charity, meaning the only response to evil (and interpretation of its meaning) that fittingly corresponds to God’s eternal intention toward our fallen world is to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). This was Jesus on the Cross. This is what we call charity, agapē, love, which is to will the good of the other. And love in the face of evil has a name, and that name is mercy. Mercy is love encountering evil and overcoming it, healing it, pardoning it, redeeming it. Again, this was Jesus on the Cross.

So what is the meaning of this disastrous global natural evil? It is a call from God to receive and then do the truth in love, to be merciful as the Father is merciful, to practice solidarity with the suffering, to sacrifice one’s own good for the good of others, to ceaselessly intercede for the welfare and salvation of all.

And it is a universal call to repent of all that works against this universal human vocation entrusted to us above all in Christ. Jesus made this very point about repentance:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” — Luke 12:1-5

This is indeed the Great Lent, the season of repentance, of purification, of detachment from all that prevents us from loving God and neighbor in the extreme.

Back to Aquinas: “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.” This statement is not simply a call to passivity, to waiting on God’s miraculous intervening power to suddenly appear and deliver us from evil. Nor is it simply a call to wait for heaven where all will finally be well. Aquinas’ words represent a command to cooperate with God’s merciful will to draw greater good from every evil, in the here and now.

It is Jesus saying to us again, “You give them something to eat” (Mk. 6:37).

Just look around! Everywhere, even amid many evils, there has emerged an explosion of goodness, of kindness, of patience, of mercy. O Christians, light the world, leaven the bread, salt the earth, lead the way.

So even now as we ask-seek-knock in prayer, we must sense deep within the power of mercy stirring, surging, commanding: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!” And always remember when you say Amen, “So be it,” you accept in full the divine commission to draw forth some greater good.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life…

“She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.” – Rev. 12:2

“I’m working a lot more,” says Don LeBlanc, who cleans everything from operating theaters to patient wards during his usual 6 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift. “Now, it’s sometimes 10 hours or 12 hours [per day].” https://www.marketwatch.com/

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. — Charles Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities

One cannot extol enough the many people in diverse professions, circumstances and states of life who are presently living lives of great sacrifice and hardship now. People who, faced with fear and enormous obstacles, maintain a firm will to sustain hope, to defend life and to maintain good order in the face of the great forces of chaos that threaten us.

Though I never wish to idealize or romanticize people, these days of crisis have called us all to a new greatness — a greatness that for some involves risky work and exhausting hours, for others means dealing with job loss, illness or death, while others are challenged with suffering feelings of helplessness, isolation, loneliness or anxiety, even as they muster acts of courage and trust in God’s mysterious providence.

So many people’s lives of prayer — certainly my own — have turned away from more self-absorbed musings on their own spiritual lives, needs or personal fulfillment, and outward toward the needs and welfare of others. This reminds me of what a priest said several years ago in a retreat I was on:

The saints are quite unanimous: a premier sign of holiness is when your thoughts are populated more by considerations of the welfare of others than of your own, and in that you find your greatest freedom and joy. Certainly if we examine the prayer life of Jesus, as in John 17 or on the cross, this was His whole prayer’s concern: us and our salvation. And what preoccupies His mind now that He’s in heaven? Hebrews 7:25 gives a stunning answer, “He lives forever to make intercession for us.”

In the ancient pattern of God’s redeeming providence, these days of dark travail are ripe for transforming our wailing world into a labor and delivery room, from which a new era of saints can now be born. So it might be good for leaders within the churches, amid the scurrying, to heed the words of St. John Paul II, watch carefully and take note(s)…

…The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.

Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness, in everyday secular conditions and the conjugal state, and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, the Churches might propose them to be beatified and canonized.

Esteem them very highly in love because of their work

[I wrote this in my journal after going on Facebook the other day…]

Therefore encourage [parakaleite] one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. — 1 Thess. 5:11-13

So much is happening so fast. We are swimming in an ever-rising sea of new data, new experiences, new crises, new analyses, new opportunities which require a rapidly evolving assessment, analysis, judgment and response. Many wonderful breakthroughs have and will come, and many more mistakes are being and will be made. I already myself have a lengthy running tally of the latter!

This all calls for the very things panic can obscure — even-handedness, patient consideration, balanced judgment, humility, courage, charity, conciliatory forgiveness, constructive criticism that offers alternatives or helping hands instead of attacks, and a willingness to pray and offer sacrifices for those who bear the great burden of leadership. It’s an easy time to kick men or institutions or societies when they’re down, but it’s much harder to lower them down to Jesus on a mat, or to pick them up and carry them on your beast, at your own expense, to nearest Field Hospital.

I remember when Fr. Anthony said to me, after I completed a lenten penance, “From now on, for every charitable criticism you offer of another, ten brief acts of prayer for them. For every uncharitable one, ten brief acts of reparation.”

Who needs a parakaleite — an “advocate” and “encourager” — these days? Too many to name! All those who are suffering from job loss, illness, exhaustion, anxiety, et alia. Countless medical professionals. Men and women who ensure our safety and keep order. Those in public and private sector institutions providing our “essential services.” Our civic and religious leaders. Those tending to the homeless and vulnerable. Parents caring for children, children caring for their parents. Teachers who continue to educate us. Entertainers who try by creative means to lift our spirits. In a word, all those who are laboring long and hard on behalf of all, for the good of all.

Just thinking of all this humbles me to the dust, calls me out of my many comfort zones out into a greater gratitude.

All those out there who are the “humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history” (JP2) we are to “esteem very highly in love because of their work.” And if we see the need to point out or confront any of the errors, failures or sins in others, we Christians do this not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting a candle — first always repenting ourselves, then offering correction “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:16) while encouraging, when possible, each other’s better angels. And for back-up, people of faith’s first go-to is always imploring from the merciful Father, “with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7), every good gift from above needed by each person who comes into our field of vision every day. Yes Cain, we are our brother’s keeper.

Thus, by fostering solidarity among all, we Christians are to become “as a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium #1). As “sign,” we must visibly embody unity, and as “instrument” we must allow God to accomplish this unity through us. Vatican II said it this way:

The promotion of unity belongs to the innermost nature of the Church … Thus she shows the world that an authentic union, social and external, results from a union of minds and hearts, namely from that faith and charity by which her own unity is unbreakably rooted in the Holy Spirit. For the force which the Church can inject into the modern society of man consists in that faith and charity put into vital practice, not in any external dominion exercised by merely human means (Gaudium et spes #42).

Seeing in us a sacrament, non-Christians should be able to look into the Christian community, whether online or in person, and say with stunned awe:

My God! See how they love one another and all! Even their enemies they treat as if friends. Now we see what it looks like to bring harmony into division…

…See! Where there is hatred, they sow love; Where there is injury, they offer pardon; Where there is doubt, they sow faith; Where there is despair, they bring hope; Where there is darkness, they shine light; And where there is sadness, they bear joy; Where there is suffering, they bring relief…

…“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” (2 Kings 5:15)…

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May God give superabundant wisdom, creativity, strength, protection, peace, courage, joy, patience, endurance and perseverance to all those who labor among us or are in authority over us.

May God, in this time of lenten purification, turn us back to Him, reconcile us to one another and open our eyes to Truth to see among us, as St. Augustine said it, “one Christ loving Himself.”

May we never abort His will to gestate love in the world through us…

[in case below video does not play in this post click here]

 

Missing the Mockingbird’s dive

A journal entry from a month ago:

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About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star. — Annie Dillard

I have to say that, for me, one of the bitterest curses of the smartphone is its power to distract from the beauty, surprises and annoyances of the real world. As we look down at our glowing screens, mediating a self-selected (or ad driven) reality, will miss the unruly, unpredictable epiphanies of earth, sea, sky or faces around us. And as we are repeatedly immersed in streaming Xfinity megabits per second, our minds dull, become impatient to the unhurried and un-swiped pace of life.

I try hard not to hate on smartphones. They offer immense advantages, obviously, and they are a staple of life now. My problems with them are my problems, and I know some virtuous users. But it becomes harder and harder for me to not grieve their negative effects. It’s been almost two years since I re-adopted a flip phone, after I realized in the smartphone I had met my match. I had been seduced by the allure of voice-to-text, seized by that low buzz itch to check news alerts, social media updates, search articles, look something up, listen to YouTube or Spotify — oh, and back to more voice-to-text.

I disliked who I had become. But there I was. Though I’d won the rationalization battle, I’d lost too much of my inner freedom.

That is, until the day my 92 year old God-inhabited mom, who had been trying to tell me something while I was screen-gazing, accosted me in a rare moment of impatience: “I’m glad I was born when I was. We didn’t have those things. We talked.”

I looked up and woke up.

A few flip-phone beneficial side-effects: My five senses reawakened to the world around me. My geographical imagination (without a phone GPS) rekindled and I rediscovered the wonder of getting lost and asking for directions. My attention span refocused and expanded. I’ve been reminded of the arduousness of meaningful communication. I’ve gloried more readily in fleeting moments that escape recording, and labor to have them inhabit my soul.

I really believe a new “Christian distinctive” should look something like this: We are the new radicals noted for strolling on a beach, sitting on a porch, walking in a mall, swinging in a park, waiting at a bus stop, standing in line at a checkout, exercising on a treadmill, eating in a restaurant, sitting alone at home, or (gasp!) driving a car … without once looking at our phone.

Yes, we are the Masters, and these are our phone-servants.

Tertullian wrote in the third century, “See, [the pagans say of Christians], how they love one another…” Maybe a new Tertullian will write in 20 years of Christians:

The pagans marvel about us, saying, “See how they love one another! At extreme length they dwell together without a device in hand or in ear. They live in the world with such serenity and attentiveness, even in silence and boredom. Have they gone mad?”

And among our number, maybe a new St. Francis can again arise, per Pope Francis’ vision:

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever St. Francis would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.

His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.

Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.

By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Stop, and try to see a Mockingbird dive…