"Stop Lying to One Another!"

When the abuse crisis burst in Boston, I was invited to write some reflections for the Common Ground Newsletter. The words that kept haunting me were from the Letter to the Colossians: "Stop lying to one another!" They will be read tomorrow at the Sunday Eucharist, and they call to renewed reflection.

I was again reminded of them by a comment in one of the thread's below. It quotes from an article that Edward Vacik, S.J. wrote a few years back in America. He was pondering the decline in the formal celebration of the Sacrament on Penance.

Why do 'good people' need regular confession? I will focus here on one reason: to discover that we are sinners. Put simply, the sacrament provides an occasion and a stimulus for discovering the deep truth that we are sinners. Put paradoxically, confession 'makes' us sinners. Penance is the sacrament of honesty.

St. John states this theme with exceptional clarity: 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins' (1 Jn. 1:8-9). My thesis is that we 'good people' need the sacrament of penance in order to overcome self-deception. Otherwise, it is only 'bad people' who, acknowledging their sin, walk away justified (Lk. 18:9-14).

The problem for us 'good people' is that most of our day-to-day sinning occurs under a shroud of self-deception. This is convenient, since traditional theology said we are not guilty if we do not have adequate knowledge. Self-deception is a clever way to avoid guilt."

Self-deception is the lie we tell others, by first lying to ourselves.

Colossians makes clear that the Christian life is the ongoing struggle to live out our baptismal "putting off" of the old self, and being renewed in the self that is being recreated in the image of Christ.

This is why Monday's neglected feast of the Transfiguration is one of the central icons and truths of the Great Tradition. It is about our destiny, and the arduous, if joyful, path to its realization.

True friends in the Spirit help us on the journey.

Donald Nicholl, the late English layman and spiritual writer, recounts, in his book, Holiness, the great grace he received through his spiritual director, Ida Goerres.

Like many beginners I had made the mistake of talking too much and writing too much about the vistas that open up before one when one first gets a glimpse of the [spiritual] path.

Looking back on those years I feel that I would have gone ship-wrecked had it not been for Ida who showed me what it means to be a soul-friend.

Ida was able through her loving eye to see both my talents and my flaws at a glance; nothing seemed to escape her. With one sentence, or even one word, or sometimes simply by the challenge of her eyes, Ida would pick out the false note in something I had said or written and compel me to pay attention to it, until I could hear my own falsity ringing in my ears. Never once did she connive at my self-deceptions

How blessed to find an Ida in our lives. Perhaps even more blessed: to recognize our need for one.

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

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