"I confess." Although we are accustomed to saying those words at the beginning of every Mass, they are actually rather startling. I think of all the great detective stories when, clearly outsmarted by the sleuth detective, the suspect is cornered into confessing. "I did it! Yes, yes, it was me!" Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches one to confess quite easily and willingly. It is an integral part of Catholic life.
Last Saturday evening, I was on retreat with a large group of college students. For a couple of hours, four other priests and I heard confessions. There is something so refreshing about hearing people confessing their own sins and faults. There is a great purity about it. A Catholic enters the confessional not to accuse others, but to accuse himself or herself. At the beginning of Mass, a Catholic doesn't say, "We confess." He says, "I confess."
"Through my fault."
"Through my fault."
Are you sure? Maybe it is someone else's fault. Are you certain that you are to blame?
"Through my most grievous fault!"
Social media (and the media in general) has become an outlet for accusing others about everything. If somebody gets shot with a gun, then the people to blame are the people who voted for the politician who supported gun rights. If the person was shot by an immigrant who is in the country illegally, then the people to blame are those who voted for a politician who supports the Dream Act. The list goes on and on. We spend a lot of time accusing others about everything!
Even within the Church, social media has become the place of accusation. "He is a heretic!" "She is judgmental!" "They are pharisees!" "They aren't real Catholics!" Catholics--and others--bait one another on social media and then feign shock when the inevitable counter-attack follows.
We live in the Age of Accusation, but not in the Age of Confession. I wonder if we were all more attentive to our own faults by regularly examining our consciences and confessing our sins, if we would be more hesitant to accuse others on social media and in the media in general? Perhaps the current obsession with blaming others is the result of our inability or unwillingness to examine ourselves and accuse ourselves before God?
Is engaging in constant online accusations a sign of spiritual bankruptcy? Are the Twitter wars of accusations an angry substitute for humble prayer before God? Are people more concerned about entertaining their "followers" than they are about following the Lord? The Lord himself warned that we should remove the plank from our own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from our brother's eye. And yet, there are a lot more Catholics on Twitter than there are in the line for Confession. There are significantly more accusations being lobbed against others on social media than there are self-accusations happening in the confessionals of our churches.
The climate in which we live today is all about pointing the finger and saying, "Through his fault, through her fault, through their most grievous fault." The Catholic way is to say, "Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." This humble admission opens our hearts up to receive God's life changing grace. In humbly and honestly accusing ourselves, we create a space in the world for Christ's grace to heal, forgive, and renew. And the world needs that kind of space more than it needs our accusations.
Accusing others likely only deepens divisions and hardens hearts. On the other hand, accusing ourselves humbly before God heals divisions and changes our own heart. And, our own hearts all need changing.