Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mea Culpa


The beginning words of the Confiteor will ever be an incomplete statement of the process of self-examination and, at the same time, the doorway that opens to ever-deepening depths of interior healing and health.[1] It is a process that we are simply never done with, though it is easily set aside, avoided, or rejected for one reason or another, especially in our pressing post-modern culture with its gross overemphasis on individualism and independence.

I do not like to admit my own culpability. Not to myself. Not to anyone else. I am, after all, a human being and I am as susceptible as any other person to the sin of self-justifying pride, the plank that leads only to the inevitable short plunge into an unforgiving sea of self-destruction.[2]

John Cassian, born about 360 and ordained to the diaconate shortly after 400 by John Chrysostom, writes poignantly about the vice of pride, something that is found listed first on the list of the seven capital sins.

“There is no other vice which so reduces to naught every virtue and so despoils and impoverishes a human being of all righteousness and holiness as does the evil of pride. Like a kind of pestilence in its noxious universality, it is not satisfied with disabling one member or one part of the body; instead, it wastes the whole body with its deadly corruption and seeks to cast down and demolish by the most utter collapse those whose place is already at the summit of the virtues.”[3]

Poignant words. Blunt and sharp in the same instance. Words that implore self examination.

St. Benedict[4] cautions against the sin of superbia throughout the Rule. He applies these cautions to every level of personal monastic status: Abbot, cellarer, deans, prior, priests, reader, monks. I must, as an Oblate of St. Benedict, take to heart the wise counsel from “a father who loves me, welcome it, and (work to) faithfully put it into practice.”[5] The context of an obedient life as an Oblate of St. Benedict, housed within the framework of the historic Catholic faith, has defining and refining characteristics that I cannot ignore or slight.

The practical truth of the matter is that none, regardless of their point or position of Christian experience and service, are immune to pride. I am certainly not above it, must own up to it, and include myself in this group of none. Pride, cloaked with its insidious and deceptive nature, has a way of always showing up. It simply has my number, knows how to dial it, and is constantly ringing it up in one way or another.

Cassian tells us that no one can attain the end of perfection and purity except by true humility.[6] Benedict spends quite a few words in the Rule[7] outlining twelve steps in the ladder of humility. It seems to me, despite all the efforts and arguments made to downplay, avoid, and even justify omiting the subject, there is only one legitimate prescription available that can allay the effects of pride.[8]

Perhaps, if I keep taking this prescription long enough, one day I’ll finally slay this dragon named pride that shows up all too often on my doorstep. I can offer no legitimate excuse for opening the door and welcoming him in.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

[1] James 5:16
[2] Proverbs 16:18-19
[3] John Cassian, The Institutes, Twelfth Book, p. 255
[4] c. 480-547
[5] RB, Prologue 1
[6] Book Twelve, XXIII
[7] RB 7
[8] Phillipians 2:5-8