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).

+ + +

… 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.

+ + +

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:


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.



The songs of eternity…

This may seem quite odd, but that has never stopped me before from posting a thought.

Several years ago, I wrote a post sharing the song I hoped would be playing when — by the mercy of God — I enter into the eternity of God in the new creation. For almost 30 years, I have had a strange, forceful and persistent sense that this would be the case.

So when I happened on this performance quite by chance today, it overwhelmed me with its power. So, I share it here as we enter into the holiest days of the year, when “the eternal life that was with the Father was revealed to us” (1 John 1:2) … the God who

will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away. — Rev. 21:4

The Music of Emilie

…music one of the most amazing and mysterious phenomena of all the world’s ‘miranda,’ the things that make us wonder … a secret philosophizing of the soul … yet, with the soul entirely oblivious that philosophy, in fact, is happening here … Beyond that, and above all, music prompts the philosopher’s continued interest because it is by its nature so close to the fundamentals of human existence. — Josef Pieper

“Laugh and grow strong” — St. Ignatius of Loyola

Mankind has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. — Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger, chapter 10 (1916)

In case you need a little laughter for the good of your soul, here are a few of my favorites…



Byzantine chant

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Built in A.D. 537

Lifted up on the Cross by Your free will, Christ God, grant mercies to the new commonwealth that bears Your name. Gladden our faithful rulers by Your power, giving them victories over their adversaries. May Your alliance be for them a weapon for peace, an invincible standard. — Kontakion of Elevation of the Holy Cross

I heard a story on NPR recently about this remarkable recording. It’s absolutely haunting.

“Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia” is the first vocal album in the world to be recorded entirely in live virtual acoustics. With a stunning reverberation time of over 11 seconds, the acoustics of the one-time Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia were measured and analyzed, and auralized in real-time on Cappella Romana’s performance by the Icons of Sound team at Stanford University (

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia presents more than 75 minutes of medieval Byzantine chant for the Feast of the Holy Cross in Constantinople, one of the greatest celebrations in the yearly cycle of worship at Hagia Sophia.

This was my personal favorite.

Oh Lord

Going by the stage name initials NF, this guy does not mince words. And it’s exactly that earnest, at times in-your-face attitude that’s drawn both rave reviews and concern about how this 25-year-old Christian rapper from Michigan may be just a bit too raw. Self-referentially, he raps, “He’s at it again, NF is crazy, he’s bad for the kids.”

So is he? And how exactly does this extraordinarily intense young rapper spit out his tale of unfiltered grief? (It’s grief that’s triggered by a veritable tsunami of emotions revolving around the death of his mother from an overdose as well as suffering abuse and poverty while growing up.)

“Oh Lord” expresses spiritual doubt (“Oh Lord, oh Lord, do You see us down here?”), but goes on to admit that we sometimes attack God’s character when the fault is actually our own… — Focus on the Family review

Thought I’d post this raw song the first Lenten Friday….

When I die, put my ashes in the trash bag
I don’t care where they go
Don’t waste your money on my gravestone
I’m more concerned about my soul
Everybody’s gon’ die
Don’t everybody live though
Sometimes I look up to the sky
And wonder do You see us down here?
Oh Lord, oh Lord, do You see us down here?

Oh Lord, oh Lord
Listen, yeah everybody wants change
Don’t nobody wanna change though
Don’t nobody wanna pray
Till they got something to pray for
Now everybody’s gon’ die
But don’t everybody live though
Sometimes I look up to the sky
And wonder do you see us down here?

Oh Lord, oh Lord, do You see us down here?
Oh Lord, oh Lord

It’s easy to blame God but harder to fix things
We look in the sky like, “why ain’t You listening?”
Watching the news in our living rooms on the big screens
And talking ’bout “if God’s really real, then where is He?”
You see the same God that you saying might not even exist
Becomes real to us, but only when we dying in bed
When ya healthy it’s like, we don’t really care for Him then
Leave me alone God, I’ll call you when I need you again
Which is funny, everyone will sleep in the pews
Then blame God for our problems like He sleeping on you
We turn our backs on Him, what do you expect Him to do?
It’s hard to answer prayers when nobody’s praying to you
I look around at this world we walk on
It’s a smack in the face, don’t ever tell me there’s no God
And if there isn’t then what are we here for?
And what are y’all doing down there? I don’t know Lord

Oh Lord, oh Lord, do You see us down here?
Oh Lord, oh Lord
Do You see us down here? Oh Lord
Can You see us down here? Oh Lord
Oh Lord, oh Lord
Can You see us? Can’t You see us?


Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone, oh
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone. — Demi Lovato

Demi performed this song at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, which was her first performance since suffering a near-fatal drug overdose in July 2018. She said in an recent interview, “I almost listen back and hear these lyrics as a cry for help … how did nobody listen to this song and think, ‘Let’s help this girl’?” Four days after the track had been recorded, she overdosed.

I watched her Grammy performance live, and was captivated by its raw power; as a form of prayer born of desperation. It was like Psalm 130 burning through her:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ears be attentive
to the sound of my pleadings.

It also reminded me of a comment the inimitable Fr. Philip Scott once made to me as he and I walked through Ybor City talking: “When the poor cry out for justice and the addicts cry out for deliverance, God’s first response is to awaken us, the Church, to run to their aid.” Pope Benedict said something very similar when he spoke at Auschwitz:

When all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature! And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence — so that his power, the power he has planted in our hearts, will not be buried or choked within us by the mire of small-souled selfishness, indifference or opportunism.

In your compassion, answer, O Lord, by making me your answer. Amen.

I tried to talk to my piano
I tried to talk to my guitar
Talk to my imagination
Confided into alcohol
I tried and tried and tried some more
Told secrets ’til my voice was sore
Tired of empty conversation
‘Cause no one hears me anymore
A hundred million stories
And a hundred million songs
I feel stupid when I sing
Nobody’s listening to me
Nobody’s listening
I talk to shooting stars
But they always get it wrong
I feel stupid when I pray
So, why am I praying anyway?
If nobody’s listening
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone, oh
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone
I used to crave the world’s attention
I think I cried too many times
I just need some more affection
Anything to get me by
A hundred million stories
And a hundred million songs
I feel stupid when I sing
Nobody’s listening to me
Nobody’s listening
I talk to shooting stars
But they always get it wrong
I feel stupid when I pray
Why the hell am I praying anyway?
If nobody’s listening
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone, oh
Anyone, please send me anyone
Oh, Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone
Oh, anyone, I need anyone
Oh, anyone, I need someone
A hundred million stories
And a hundred million songs
I feel stupid when I sing
Nobody’s listening to me
Nobody’s listening

To be freed

While diligence and industriousness are important virtues for any kind of work, they become vices when these habits serve as means to escape oneself
through excessive work, leading him or her to crowd out all other dimensions of life. Acedia [sloth] produces boredom not in work, but in everything else but work. — Michael Naughton

Not long ago, I gave a talk at a retreat on the importance of leisure. I focused on the importance of ensuring life is always marked by an ebb and flow between work and leisure, especially in a culture that equates productivity and worth, busyness and value, and reduces leisure to recovery from and for work.

Among the many definitions of leisure I proposed, I said leisure is a disposition of inner freedom (licere = “to be freed”) that makes one capable of receiving existence as a sheer gift and not as an earned reward. Engaging in leisure of this sort is a sign you have affirmed that being (“who I am”) precedes doing (“what I do”), and have ceased trying — at least for a time — to manipulate existence into being what you wish it to be, and not receiving it for what it is.

Leisurely activities, always carried out “without a why,” as ends-in-themselves, affirm what is most essential in life — beauty, truth, goodness, love, mystery. And they affirm relationships as primary, as the true ends never to be turned into mere means. As such, leisure requires time, patient waiting, silence, wonder and abundant love.

Leisure re-grounds our sense of worth and identity in the act of creation, in having been created by God from nothing as a gift freely given — our existence being a gift unsought, undeserved, unmerited, unearned.

We were not created to achieve some other end or goal, but simply for our own fulfillment (the achievement of which entails the fulfillment of all humanity and the whole of creation). “The glory of God is the living man.” God does not need us, but at every moment we exist because God wills us to exist. Wants us to exist. Period. Nothing else justifies our reason for being other than an infinite and eternally sustained act of gratuitous love emanating from the God whose existence is “without a why.”

Love is our origin, our end, our raison d’être.

Prayer in its deepest meaning is the act of freely submitting to God’s gaze of merciful love on the seventh day of creation. In prayer, we are willingly bathed in God’s willing Word: “Very good. Very beautiful” (Gen 1:31). And only those who consent in prayer to receive this gaze, even into their darkness, can choose to look out with this same gaze on all…

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.” — Luke 23:33-34

Worship is a confession of our gifted inalienable worth as we praise, bless, adore, glorify, and give thanks to the One “who didst bring us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away didst raise us up again and didst not cease to do all things until thou hadst brought us back to heaven, and hadst endowed us with thy kingdom which is to come.” Not because God needs such worship from groveling sycophants, but because worship rightly disposes us to receive all He has already given, from all eternity.

The most fruitful activity of man is to receive God.

In vain is your earlier rising,
your going later to rest,
you who toil for the bread you eat,
when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber. – Psalm 127:2

In my talk, I said,

Amazing that God had to command the Sabbath, to command us to stop working. Command leisure. Sin makes us slaves to work, to busyness, to distraction, keeps us in the bondage of Egypt where we are not free to worship.

I’ve always thought how apropos it was that, on the gates of Auschwitz, the Nazis placed these words: Arbeit macht frei, “Work sets you free.”

If you feel worthless when you are not productive, busy or working;
or if, when you rest, you feel guilty,
as if you have not sufficiently justified your reason for existing as you rest;
or if you cannot endure praise for any sign of goodness or beauty in you,
but ever demur that you are unworthy of any praise;
or if, when you are not suffering in some way,
you feel you don’t deserve good or pleasure or joy for its own sake –
you need to sit at the feet of Queen Sabbath, who, as gift of God,
was sent to remind you of the words spoken at your conception:
“I love you: I want you to be.”