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sweet nothings

By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 18, 2007

"Confession -- as the saying goes -- is good for the soul and even better for the heart."

That's Archbishop Wilton Gregory, alas, catechizing the Catholics of Atlantic on the Sacrament of Penance. I've never heard "the saying" before, and I doubt you have either. It belongs to that tin mine of homiletic Precious Moments from which Gregory's generation quarries its theological wisdom.

Does it mean anything at all? It would be truer to say, "Confession is good for the heart and even better for the soul," but even so it wouldn't do to ask in earnest what "good for the heart" means.

Perhaps it's as captious to expect theological lucidity of an archbishop as it is to subject a Hallmark greeting card to rigorous conceptual analysis. Gregory was probably on autopilot when he wrote his column. But it marks him as fundamentally un-serious -- un-serious about that whole religion thing at any rate. It's fairly certain that he doesn't care whether what he says is true because he believes that his audience doesn't care either; what is important is that the message communicated be reassuring. Gregory's "saying" is simply a way of putting his audience at its ease, like a Rotarian's smile beamed at his listeners as he mounts the podium.

This specimen of doctrinal nonchalance, trivial enough in its own right, is a good illustration of the predicament of orthodox Catholics today: those faithful who believe in the Four Last Things are (for the most part) pastored by bishops who don't. Paradoxically, the indispensability of the bishop to their sacramental life and of the sacramental life to their salvation is more evident to these Catholics than to the bishop himself. That means those who take the spiritual stakes seriously have no choice but to accept, and find a way to feed themselves on, their pastors' un-seriousness.

That's bad for the blood pressure, and even worse for the heart.

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2007 3:11 AM ET USA

    I tend to agree with Malthus. So many clerics--especially campus ministry types--seem embarrassed by the Sacrament of Penance that anyone preaching on it is a net plus. I don't think Bp Gregory is very deep, but Uncle Di's comments are awfully broad based on one Hallmark lapse, and the cynical tone is wrong and harmful. The general conclusion seems to be that we should simply ignore our bishops. As a Catholic, I don't think I have that option. How about supporting them with our prayers?

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2007 11:24 PM ET USA

    The criticism of bishops' indifference is true, but not the case here. The quote comes from an update on Advent in the "Local News" section of the Archdiocese's website, not a homily. Gregory should be commended for promoting a difficult and much neglected sacrament (as in the letter), not critiqued for a colloquial slip. Having heard Gregory's sermons, he is an archbishop who preaches the difficult parts of Catholic doctrine just as equally as the reassuring ones. This critique is misplaced.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2007 12:29 PM ET USA

    Gaby, It's akin to finding merit in Notre Dame Cathedral, but moreso in the spacious parking lot.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2007 10:44 AM ET USA

    Well now I'm confused. Should I eat more omega-3 fatty acids or go to confession more?

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2007 10:13 AM ET USA

    A great posting. Many of us are completely nonplussed by what we hear from the pulpit. I live in a retirement community. We have daily Mass. Only today, in my daily struggle with his sermon, I became convinced that our Pastor is some sort of Premillennialist Utopian Universal Salvationist, but don't ask me to analyze him further since it is too distressing. The old folks love it, and I wonder if perhaps, in his reverie, the Pastor is trying to find some sort of personal forgiveness of sin.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2007 10:09 AM ET USA

    Fulfill your Sunday obligation wearing the new sermon protector prophylatic: use during the homily at the typical Sunday Mass in the US, Canada, and western Europe. Complete noise cancellation and visual protection. Preprogrammed with HiDefinition recordings of Bach's B-Minor Mass and sermons by Bishop Sheen. May be covered by medical insurance if user is over 55, or has a pre-existing heart condition. (Batteries not included.)

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2007 9:51 AM ET USA

    O for crying out loud -at least the guy was PRAISING this most unpopular sacrament! Stop whining and griping, Diogenes and save your spleen for big fish tickets!

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2007 6:35 AM ET USA

    My grasp of the line is that confession restores sanctifying grace to our souls and makes us feel good, too . . . and that the latter is more important than the former. The horizontal is given priority over the vertical, the worldly over the supernatural, the goods of this life over those of the next. A regrettable episcopal slip - with further reflection I'm sure the Archbishop would correct it.