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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: - Nov. 20, 2009 1:40 PM ET USA

    Good answer!

  • Posted by: skladach - Nov. 18, 2009 7:09 PM ET USA

    Variations on the Theme (with apologies to Mozart): I. I think it's true to say that there is no truer stance for U.S. bishops today than to be in union with Rome and the CDF. II. I think it's gracious to say that there is no more grace-filled place for U.S. priests today than the Confessional at the end of a silent retreat. III. I think it is edifying to say that there is no more edifying posture for parents of Catholic children than to be on their knees together in prayer. etc. etc.

  • Posted by: Ken_H - Nov. 18, 2009 4:49 PM ET USA

    Absolutely - as you said a few weeks back "the children are well protected from their parents"...