Shock and Awe by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus said to his disciples, "A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, 'What is that I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.' The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.' He called in him master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?' He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.' Then to another the steward said, 'And you, how much do you owe?' He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.' The steward said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.' And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
"For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the the children of light. I tell you, make friends fore yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon."
Very few serial murderers or suicide bombers are devoted to frequent confession. Confession, to be sure, is not the stuff of shock and awe. Indeed, most priests will tell you that hearing confessions is hard work. It requires attentiveness as well as patience, for there seems to be a limit on the number of ways the Ten Commandments can be broken. Thoughtful penitents may find themselves frustrated because of an inability to break a predominant fault. But in the holy struggle against venial sin, they are really avoiding a far more serious pattern of mortal sin. This is one of the lessons that can be drawn from this week’s Gospel.
Christ tells us, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” The encounter with Christ in a devotional confession keeps us honest about ourselves and realistic. (A devotional confession is for the purpose of obtaining the sacramental graces to overcome patterns of venial sin, not strictly required because of mortal sin.) We are all capable of great sin. Avoiding the “big” sins begins with repenting of the “little” sins.
Vice never travels alone. In the Old Testament, King David’s sloth led to lust and adultery with Bathsheba. His adultery and fear of being exposed eventually led to his murder of Bathsheba’s lawful husband, an innocent man. Eventually the prophet Nathan brought him to conversion with his famous, “Thou are the man” indictment. Adopt a sense for the absurd for a moment and pretend there were Catholic priests hearing confessions in the Old Testament. Suppose King David confessed his sloth in lingering about the home front when he should have been accompanying his soldiers in battle. In his struggle, with the help of the sacrament of penance, the demon of his sloth may not have led him to meet the demons of lust, adultery and murder.
In the Gospels, even the hand-picked Twelve Apostles struggled with vices. James and John struggled with vainglory as they manipulated to be seated next to the Lord in His kingdom. Peter struggled with a chronic failure of nerve, Judas was a thief. Suppose Judas had approached Christ for help in overcoming his propensity for stick fingers. And suppose Christ, the Good Confessor, had instructed him to make restitution as a condition for forgiveness. Perhaps with his sins “nipped in the bud,” Judas would not have shocked the world with his infamous betrayal.
During a recent television interview, a famous pop singer explained why she left the Catholic church after years of Catholic training. She said at age 15 she concluded that it was too fantastic to believe that an impure sexual fantasy is a mortal sin. (of course, impure fantasies begin with relatively venial immodest thoughts.) After leaving the Church her public life of debauchery, personal perversity and serial divorce became the fodder of tabloids. She is said to have had several abortions along the way. It is all too easy to demonstrate, “the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.”
We are rightly shocked and awed by the horrors and depths of human suffering. But the sufferings of Christ on the cross teach us that one who suffers does not sin in the suffering, nor endanger his immortal soul. To this point, John Henry Newman is provocative. His words contrasting the horror of suffering to the gravity of sin ought to lead us to frequent devotional confession:
“The Catholic Church holds it is better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremist agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”
The most extreme human suffering does not have eternal consequences. The moral actions of man do. Even an unrepented venial sin is shocking and awful in its effects.
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