“Oh Earth Oh Earth Return”, Bill Douglas, from the album “Deep Peace” (1996)
An idea in gestation, that humility and forgiveness, and the getting of same, are vastly more important than anything this world has on offer. The question seems to be “how to get these desirable pearls?”
“The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king who would take an account of his servants.” The Gospel of Mathew (Mt 18, 23-35) refers to the account which all men will one day be called upon to give. It is a serious thought, which makes us reflect on the state of our conscience.
Or at least it should, and yet, this assumes the existence of a conscience, that one is conscious of sin, of being a sinner, of not doing God’s will, of being responsible for actions, thoughts, and desires redolent of evil and malice.
Ah yes, conscience and the formation thereof, aye, there’s the rub. Hamlet got it right, didn’t he?
We are terrified of death because at some deep level we know the accounting which awaits, and just how unprepared we are for even the beginning of contrition and remorse.
Far easier to sing and dance and pretend innocence and convince ourselves that we are really “good people” and we will be able to fool the king, and besides, there really isn’t a king at all anyway, is there?
So terrified at the thought of a reckoning that we deny reality and choose to live a fantasy as long a possible, as long as we can distract ourselves with the joys, diversions and rewards of this world.
Yet, if we have an inkling of the magnitude of our guilt, perhaps we continue down this path. As we continue the reading of this parable, our hearts are comforted. God, represented by the king, manifests such kindness, mercy and compassion to the poor servant who cannot pay his debt.
He forgives him everything and sets him free. This is amazing, overwhelming, the sheer magnitude of the debt and the infinite mercy of God brings us to tears.
The number given by Jesus is 10,000 talents. Even to us the implication is that this is a large amount. When I dig a little more, I find that, even if I assume that the talent is a larger denomination than the denarius, I’m still not getting the full impact of the story.
Here’s the calculation: 1 talent = 60 minas, 1 mina = 3 month’s wages, 60 x (3 months’ wages) = 180 months’ wages, 180 months’ wages divided by 12 months in a year = 15 years’ wages.
So, 1 talent = 15 years’ wages, and since the servant owed 10,000 talents he owed 150,000 years’ wages.
So, putting this into our own monetary language, assuming a yearly wage is, say, $15,000 (about 40hrs/week at min wage ($8/hr), the servant owed his master Two Billion, Two Hundred Fifty Million dollars, give or take a few hundred million!
Now, perhaps by a Government’s standard of debt, this amounts to mere rounding error; but for one man, a servant no less, a prole like you or I, to owe this much is absolutely unimaginable!
And our debts to God are so much greater and cannot be computed in talents, nor silver and gold, nor dollars. These debts must be reckoned in terms of the price of our redemption, the most precious blood of Jesus.
Our debts are our sins which needed to be washed away in the Blood of the divine Victim.
In spite of our good will, we increase those debts daily to a greater or lesser extent as a factor of our willingness to accept responsibility and acknowledge our guilt, to the extent that we feel remorse and contrition, and resolve to amend our ways, and actively work on that amendment every day.
From this path we shy away. We want to amend our ways, but we are totally attached to our ways, to our worldly consolations and rewards, our joys and pleasures. Hamlet’s thoughts are salient:
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to?
‘Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause. There’s the respect
that makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
the Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
the pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
the insolence of Office, and the spurns
that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
when he himself might his Quietus make
with a bare Bodkin?
Who would Fardels bear,
to grunt and sweat under a weary life,
but that the dread of something after death,
the undiscovered country, from whose bourn
no traveller returns, puzzles the will,
and makes us rather bear those ills we have,
than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
and thus the native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
with this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remember’d”
Yes, the terror of the reckoning stifles any temptation to just end it all and spare ourselves the suffering of this life. What then is left? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and we cannot bear to look at this ending, so grim is it.
If, at the end of our life, God were to place before us an exact account of our deficit we would find ourselves in a much more difficult position that that of the servant in the parable. But God, as infinite goodness, knows and has pity on our misery.
Each time we place ourselves before Him and humbly acknowledge our faults with sincere repentance, He immediately pardons us and cancels all our debts. God is magnificent in His pardoning, He does not reproach us nor does he keep an account of the faults over which we have already wept. His pardon is generous, and complete.
It is enough for Him to see us repentant, then every wound, even the most grievous and repugnant, is healed by the precious Blood of Jesus. Christ’s Blood is like an immense sea which has the power to cleanse and destroy the sins of all mankind, provided they are sincerely repented of.
Now, one of the “new ideas” to come out of the Second Vatican Council is the emphasis it gave to conscience, that “voice of God” that speaks to our hearts about loving, doing good, and avoiding evil.
Unfortunately, since Vatican II, there’s been a lot of confusion about “following one’s conscience”.
For instance, while it’s true that we should always follow our conscience, the part about “following our conscience” is all people ever hear about it these days. Since at least Vatican II, the actual formation of said consciences has been singularly missing in action. No formation happening anywhere to my knowledge at least since V-II.
So what the heck is going on? The Winnipeg Statement, for example, in paragraph 17 starts in with “It is a fact that a certain number of Catholics, although admittedly subject to the teaching of the encyclical (Humanae Vitae), find it either extremely difficult or even impossible to make their own all elements of this doctrine.” …
“But they should remember that their good faith will be dependent on a sincere self-examination (of conscience) to determine the true motives and grounds for such suspension of assent and on continued effort to understand and deepen their knowledge of the teaching of the Church.”
And then, in paragraph 25, “In the situation we described earlier in this statement (par. 17) the confessor or counsellor must show sympathetic understanding and reverence for the sincere good faith of those who fall in their effort to accept some point of the encyclical.”
And in paragraph 26, “Counsellors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find that because of particular circumstances they are involved in what seems to them a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the health of the mother” …
“In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.”
And finally in paragraph 34, “We conclude by asking all to pray fervently that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide his Church through all darkness and suffering” … The unity of the Church does not consist in a bland conformity in all ideas, but rather in a union of faith and heart,” …
“If this sometimes means that in our desire to make the Church more intelligible and more beautiful we must, as pilgrims do, falter in the way or differ as to the way, no one should conclude that our common faith is lost or our loving purpose blunted.”
So, the Canadian Bishops played the “conscience” card as if somehow that was trump when they split with Rome at the end of Vatican II. Instead of “conscience” what they got was a resurgence of “concupiscence”.
Moral relativism triumphed with a flourish of “It’s all OK if I “feel” it’s OK. And the same logic translates precisely into the logic of “Amoris Laetitia “. The conscience Zombies of Vatican II are flourishing in the catacombs of Rome.
But there’s a whole lot more to the story. Yes, it’s true that we should always follow our conscience, but we also have a responsibility to form our conscience properly! In other words, what we think is right and wrong may not actually be what’s truly right and wrong.
In fact, if our moral education comes from Hollywood and CNN, and CBC, and Facebook, and Justin Trudeau’s or Donald Trump’s tweets, and not from Sacred Scripture and traditional Church teaching over the last two millennia, then we’ve not formed our consciences properly, and what our conscience tells us will most likely be wrong.
We are obligated to follow our conscience under such circumstances. However, we’re also guilty of doing wrong if we didn’t take the time and make the effort to form our conscience properly. So, the foundation of the entire moral life comes down to properly forming our conscience.
Without proper formation of conscience the outcome of “sincerely examining one’s conscience” becomes license to do whatever we want and exponentially increase the daily deficit of our sins. Christ’s Blood is like an immense sea which has the power to cleanse and destroy the sins of all mankind, provided they are sincerely repented of.
All bets are off if we simply resort to more whitewashing and deflection in the name of “examining one’s conscience”.
The formation of conscience or lack thereof is born out by just a simple observation of that small percentage of Catholics who attend Mass regularly these days.
Back in the day, Confession used to be normally held, in two or even three confessionals for the hour or so preceding every Mass. And in my youth, the line up for confession was always “round the block”, or in this case, “round the church” (inside the church of course).
Nowadays, confession is limited to the presence of the priest in the confessional in our church a half hour prior to Mass and the lineup rarely exceeds one or two or three people and always the same people. And that is an improvement over the way it has been for years, where confession was by appointment.
Notwithstanding the absence of penitents in the confessional lineup every Sunday, the lineup for Eucharist always includes most of the congregation. This goes to the heart of the “conscience” question. There are only a couple of possibilities, a couple of obvious conclusions which the observed data begs.
1. There has been a remarkable change in the State of Grace of church going Catholics in the last 50 years, that is, there are very few sinners any more.
Or 2. The majority of those taking Eucharist are not doing so in a state of grace, in other words, in the absence of a well formed conscience they are as described in 1 Corinthians 11:29 “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body”.
Humility and forgiveness, and the getting of same, are vastly more important than anything this world has on offer. We are so screwed! The only consolation in this “conscience” debacle is Christ’s own statement to the effect that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42
Whited sepulchers indeed.