The Inner Struggle

Forgiveness … and humility … and forming one’s conscience …

Oh Earth Oh Earth Return”, Bill Douglas, from the album “Deep Peace” (1996)

Deep Peace, Bill Douglas, 1996

Deep Peace, Bill Douglas, 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.

The king, out of compassion, forgives the destitute servant much

The king, out of compassion, forgives the destitute servant much

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.

Pen and a mathematical exercise
(calculations are real and solved correctly)

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.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

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”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare‘s play Hamlet. Act III, Scene I.




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.

Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ

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.

First Ministers, 2016

First Ministers, 2016

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.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, June 17, 2015. REUTERS

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.



Life in a small town, The Inner Struggle

Good Sunday Morning from the Shire …

“早春賦”  by Akira Nakada, performed by William W. Spearman IV and Tomoko Okada,  from the album “Beautiful Japanese Songs”, (2006)

早春賦 Beautiful Japanese Songs

A beautiful sunny Sunday morning in the Shire. -15 Celsius and a gentle breeze, everything pristine and muted under a soft blanket of new fallen snow so white it seems almost blue in the brilliant sun.

Time change today, spring ahead, Mass was an hour earlier today and my voice even less warmed up than usual. We got through with only minor imperfections however, God be praised.

Father Chris built his homily around the rather trenchant observation that we are all great orators, teachers and preachers but rather poor students and showing singular lack of inclination and ability in the listening department.

Like Zechariah, we lack trust,  we want assurances, and are more concerned with expressing our own plans and opinions than worrying about listening to others, even when that other is God himself. In Luke 1:57-80 we find Zechariah finding his voice again after nine months of silence imposed by the Lord.


Meanwhile the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up, ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’  They said to her, ‘But, no one in your family has that name,’  and made signs to his father to find  out what he wanted him called.  The father asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ and they were all astonished.

At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All the neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered.  And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel for He has visited His people, He has come to their rescue and He has raised up for us a power for salvation in the House of his servant David, even as He proclaimed, by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times, that He would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us.

Thus He shows mercy to our ancestors, thus He remembers His holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham that He would grant us, free from fear, to be delivered from the hands of our enemies, to serve him in holiness and virtue in His presence, all our days.

And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you shall go before the Lord to prepare the way for Him. To give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins; this by the tender mercy of our God Who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.’


“Yamanakabushi” performed by Jean-Pierre Rampal & Yuzuko Horigome, from the album “Yamanakabushi: Japanese Melodies”, Vol. 3, (1982)


So, where to go from here. How about trying to spend more time contemplating and less time opinionating (is that even a word?).

Examining one’s conscience, thinking and listening, and trying to find what is wrong with me and not confirming it by expounding at length on what is wrong with others.

Thinking about anger and humility, thinking about meekness, cultivating detachment from the perceived “rightness” of my own opinion and the turmoil generated by defending that “rightness”.

If I was not so attached to my superior position and the need for validation I would feel less anger and resentment (maybe none at all?) when not accorded the adulation I feel I deserve.

… to save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us …”  Israel mistook the enemies and those who hate us for our human enemies and those who hate us in this world. Understandable perhaps, given the centuries of a tradition which had come to expect a worldly king and the restoration of Israel to the worldly power and prestige it has once enjoyed.

But in the light of Christian teaching it is clear that the enemies of which scripture speaks are Satan and his demons and all the varieties and vagaries of sin which our concupiscence leads us into in all its deviant manifestations.

Those who hate us are the same as us, are the same as those who hated Christ. Hating because they have fully embraced worldly values and rejected the notion that the wages of sin are death. Anyone who disagrees is anathema. As are those who disagree with us? Being judgemental again, Joe?

The establishment and culture of the day, the de-sacrementalized progressive society worshiping at the pool of Narcissus are bound to hate and resist and persecute anyone, and any belief system, holding up an un-distorted mirror to their tightly embraced  and thoroughly rationalized perversions. After all, they are the “normal” people, right?

St. John called for repentance and the culture be-headed him. Christ offered salvation and eternal joy and the culture crucified Him. Why should we expect anything different.  The culture hates, and kills anyone who holds up a true mirror. Only the pool matters and woe to anyone who ripples the pool.

Those who hate us are not our enemies, but only, in the inimitable words of Uncle Joe Stalin, “useful idiots” chanting on the path to perdition.

The detour to repentance and forgiveness is always available to all regardless of how they have sinned and how they have lived.  Imagine the shock of meeting Uncle Joe in the reception area of heaven!  What a thought!

The detours from the broad highway of death are clearly marked in many places along the “Highway to Hell” by large green highway signs saying “Repentance” and, if one decides to make the detour,  a little further on “Purgatory – 10 Km,  All Are Welcome” available services, reconciliation,  forgiveness,  penance,  atonement,  mortification,  detachment,  peace.  Please make yourselves at home.

Am I not just playing the blame game to serve my own interests? Letting myself off the hook of responsibility by attributing causality to others, as if I have no control over my own actions and inclinations. Can’t fool God with all my sophistry. Can’t fool God.

Do I actually believe that “if only they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have done this”. “If they didn’t act like that I wouldn’t think like this”. And while I am at it, since I have already sinned, lets do a good job of it and sin again, and again, while there is still time on the clock.

Pride clinging to self exculpation with the tenacity of a limpet at low tide.

Hmmmm … running out the clock … except when the final siren goes in this game there will be  no more chances to detour, no more chances to make up for lost time, no more chances to be sorry and make amends, no more chances …  when the tide of life finally goes out there is no return this side of hell.

I think Confession is perhaps the greatest Catholic Sacrament.

What a tragedy that Luther did away with most of the sacraments, discarding in the process, most of Christ’s invitations to the fountain of grace available to all, but rejected by most. The greatest tragedy of our civilization, perhaps, is the loss of of the sacrament of confession.



He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

psalm 23

The Inner Struggle

Cultural Decline … part 2

A couple of days ago I posted from the pit of depression feeling angry and disgusted with “society” in general. Today I am thinking that a lot of the “feelings” I entertain when I am thinking those thoughts are rooted in my own lack of forgiveness, charity and compassion. I am excessively judgmental and lose sight of just how much I have been forgiven in my rush to judgement of others who I know nothing about, especially as it comes to motives and intentions.

The same sort of “feelings” I rant about and attribute to others are polluting my own reason and conclusions.  God’s own love for me is unwavering. he is constant even when I turn away and nothing I do causes His love to fade. He is relentless in his pursuit of me and never gives up on me.

Jesus teaches that anyone who is forgiven much should be so touched by this forgiveness that he or she is moved to love as much and to forgive others in his turn, as he has been forgiven. But that only happens if we allow our hearts to be melted by the mercy given to us. Jesus gave all he possible could when he died on the cross. There is no way we could possible repay Him for that. The only possible response is the response of the heart. to embrace His love and let it make one a more merciful and forgiving person – to pay it forward …



The Inner Struggle

Some Problems Are Only Amenable To Prayer …

  The Beatitudes, from Biscantorat – The Sound Of The Spirit From Glenstal Abbey – The Monks of Glenstal Abbey – 2009

My relative and I have danced around a problem for over 40 years, sometimes more, sometimes less, but nothing ever changes or improves because no matter what happens, no matter what is said, no matter what exchanges are offered or invitations extended, she, like ISIS considers only one possible outcome. All the rest of the world must be either converted or become enemies to be destroyed.

Everyone who disagrees with her or who doesn’t at least acquiesce verbally with a smile and a laugh to her version of affairs must be utterly destroyed simply because they don’t share her views.  Even people she has never met fall into that category without ever knowing they are condemned.

It is the quintessential Poppins Syndrome, “practically perfect in every way“, and of course “misunderstood”, therefore no need to ever make allowances or to accommodate others or for other visions of what transpires. Is this not the root of all evil and violence on this planet for all of human history? It sometimes crosses my mind that if this world was all there was, then the only way to “fix” this world would be to eliminate all the humans. Fortunately this is all just a training exercise.

Gustave_Dore_Inferno34Gustave Doré‘s original painting of Lucifer from the Divine Comedy.

The total, absolute, frozen sterility of utterly self centered contemplation.

A complete inward turning of all sensibilities and thoughts.

This is truly the ninth, innermost circle of hell.

Unstinting forgiveness  and continuous prayer for the souls thus ensnared in this life, that they may see truth and be released from their own spell.

This path is also the only path to peace for the souls faced with this test in life.



The Inner Struggle

Sin and Forgiveness …

Minus 20 degrees Celsius today with a 20 to 30 Km/hr wind. Bitter. Going down to -28 Degrees tonight. Better plug the vehicles in. Made lasagna tonight – comfort food with a good red wine. What has that to do with sins and forgiveness you might ask? Quite a bit actually. The weather is part of what we euphemistically term the “human condition”. Weather, illness, work, food or the lack thereof, comfort, love, friends, enemies, government, evil, good. Dissatisfaction continually at war with contentment. Man, (and Woman) knows, with an inborn awareness, that something is wrong in this human existence, something not quite defined, a lurking shadow that effects everything we experience. Many of us in these enlightened progressive times like to think that the root cause of this historical disorder is the notion that “a man can do something wrong or evil”. All we need to be perfect is rid ourselves of the silly claim that good and evil exist. It’s all “relative”, right?

Yet evil and discontent seems perennially connected with our condition. Men did not suddenly realize one day that they sinned. From the beginning of history they did not and do not know what to do about the evils that they sent and send into the world because of their sins.  They sense that they have done wrong and all the bluster and pretense doesn’t make it feel OK. “I’m OK, Your OK” just doesn’t cut it when the rubber hits the road, no matter what the guru’s of self realization preach. What man senses he needs is forgiveness. That forgiveness has to be placed in the hands of someone authorized to forgive. No ordinary person possesses this capacity. We are all in this together and if we are to escape our fate we have to be forgiven by someone outside the pit.

Over the last hundred thousand years or so, very few of the billions of people who have lived on this planet have heard of this forgiveness of sins that Revelation postulates. Among those who have heard of it, not many practice it. To cover this situation, we talk of being sorrowful. and we have been taught that God will forgive even if we know nothing of the Sacrament on the forgiveness of sin. Some expand this view to save everyone, while others suspect that, if everyone is forgiven, no matter what they do, why bother being good? The good and the bad are equally redeemed with or equally without forgiveness, but as mentioned in a previous post “sin clouds our intellect and destroys right judgement”.

We know in our hearts that we need “forgiveness” from some authority above our state, our condition. We need forgiveness from God, from the Divine.  And we need genuine forgiveness that does not excuse but requires sorrow, and contrition, and amendment and amends. “The great sacrifice for the sins of mankind was offered by the death of the Messiah, who is called in Scripture: ‘The Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.’”  Samuel Johnson, 1781.  The Messiah is the only source of all genuine forgiveness. Even when men and women genuinely forgive they are only passing on that which was given them by the Messiah.

“… Forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt that is left over. To excuse, what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.  …”

From “Essay on Forgiveness” by C.S Lewis, The McMillan Publishing Company, Inc. N.Y. 1960.







Disclaimer for nitpickers: We take pride in being incomplete, incorrect, inconsistent, and unfair. We do all of them deliberately