Thursday, March 22, 2007

Love means always having to say you're sorry...

...and meaning it.

...and doing something about it.

Great Lent is the season of saying "I'm sorry." And then saying it again, and again, and...

Here's a snippet from a magnificent reflection by Fr Jonathan Tobias, from his blog "Second Terrace."

"It goes without saying that “sorry” requires spiritual poverty. Physical poverty probably helps. That's why our Lord said that thistle-y thing about the camel.

The best source for sorry, of course, is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Holy Tradition is replete , like Mother Mary of Egypt, with examples of how sorry should be done. There should be little confusion in the Church about what my mood should be when I confess my sins. I should be embarrassed and ashamed, and frightened at the inevitabilities of the consequences. There should be no bravado, nor nonchalance, nor soliciting.

Absolution should always come as a surprise.

I should never expect the Crucifixion.

There can be no “of course” to the Cup.

I should feel, escaping from the Mystery, as though I were a death row inmate, whose injection was stopped at 2359, and whose sentence was commuted, who’s been sent to a cottage on the sands for the rest of his days, with my family in flipflops, watching the dolphins pirouette in the blue argent tide, in the Trinitarian sun.

Well, now, that was just too personal, wasn’t it?

But I think some more personal is needed in sorry these days. Myself, I’ve been too doctrinaire in a bureaucratic sort of way, thinking of sin as transgression in some cosmic juridical drama: you know, Christ as my Perry, old Louis the Officer as the DA.

To help with sorry, I’ve found a surprising source. It is Homer, no less, from the Iliad. Here is Phoenix, Achilles’ old tutor, trying to prevail upon his former protégé to join the battle line against Hector and company:

We do have Prayers, you know, Prayers for forgiveness,
daughters of mighty Zeus … and they limp and halt,
they’re all wrinkled, drawn, they squint to the side,
can’t look you in the eyes, and always bent on duty,
trudging after Ruin, maddening, blinding Ruin.
But Ruin is strong and swift –
She outstrips them all by far, stealing a march,
leaping over the whole wide earth to bring mankind to grief.
And the Prayers trail after, trying to heal the wounds.

Here and I thought my prayers for forgiveness, and all my sorry’s, were quite noble, aristocratic works. I was proud of my confessions, because it was, after all, a great condescension on my part to actually kneel down and admit I was wrong, that mistakes were made … or to say that, God, if I offended You, or if You took offense at anything I did (without my knowing) … or to admit that I failed the Fast last Wednesday by eating margarine with whey in it (I should have consulted the label first).

He should have been pleased that I was so articulate, that I fell, rhetorically and oh so Wagnerianly on my mea culpa sword.

But Homer says that my prayers for forgiveness are old ladies, limp and halt, who stumble, wrinkled and squinty, after the mad Ruin of my sin.

Sin is not so much crime, or even disease, as it is ruin. It is the ruin of Creation, logos and telos, meaning and destiny ... it is the shriveling of hypostasis, the schizophrenification of time.

Truly, sin is mad Ruin.

And the Prayers trail after, trying to heal the wounds.

And by His stripes alone are we healed.

Read it all here.