Remember the famous story about G.K.Chesterton. The editor of a major paper asked people to write in explaining what they thought was wrong with the world.
Chesterton wrote a short letter that went like this:
Dear Sir, What’s wrong with the world? I am, Yours Sincerely, G.K.Chesterton.
“My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault” is what we say in the Confiteo. Critics of the Catholic faith say we are dishing out the guilt and making people feel bad, but I think it is going to be refreshing–and here’s why: Our whole culture is awash with the pop psychology counseling mentality which encourages us to blame somebody else for our problems.
“I have anger problems because my mother didn’t breast feed me” or “I am dependent because my mother did breast fed me.” You see how it goes. Every problem we have, every fault in our character, every weakness or sin we blame on somebody else. I heard a girl once excuse her promiscuity with the claim, “I sleep with lots of men because my father didn’t love me and I’m looking for a father’s love.” Or what about the guy who was unfaithful to his wife because, “I’m still looking for the perfect woman because my mother walked out on us when I was a kid.”
One of the side effects of this victim culture is that, because we blame other people for our problems and weaknesses, we also think that somebody else should solve our problems for us.
There’s a logic to it: My problems were caused by somebody else. Somebody else should solve them for me. They’re not my responsibility. Thus the entitlement culture goes with the victim mentality.Somebody owes me a living. Somebody owes me solutions to my problems. Somebody else will bail me out.
The Confiteo at the beginning of Mass is a refreshing antidote to the victim-entitlement poison. I beat my breast three times and say, “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault” and as I do I take responsibility for myself in a most solemn threefold vow of acknowledgement.
I take the blame. I take the responsibility. I take the problem as my own. This is one of the most mature things anybody can do in life–to take responsibility. To decide to do something about the problem, and if nothing can be done about it, then to bear the suffering with dignity and silence. This is not only mature, but it is a little touch of the God image in each of us. When I pick up the responsibility I am engaging my will and deciding that I am going to be involved. Me and nobody else but me.
Furthermore–let’s be even more radical and pick up other people’s trash. In other words, instead of being the poor little spoiled brat victim. Why don’t we be adult and clean up somebody else’s room? What I mean to say is that instead of blaming other people for our problems why don’t we not only take responsibility for our own sins and weaknesses and problems and failures, but why don’t we take responsibility for other’s as well?
OK, so maybe your father beat you up and your mother burned you with cigarettes and your teacher hit you with a paddle and your big brother abused you. What if you were to take responsibility for their sins as well as your own? What if we were to see the people who hurt us with hearts of compassion and be the agent of forgiveness towards them?
What if we were to say, “Here I’ll take all that trash for you. I’ll take responsibility for the mess of your life as well as the mess of my life.” What if our first ‘mea culpa’ was for us, and the second was for other people who have messed us up? By taking responsibility in this way we will actually find forgiveness, healing and peace.
If we use the second ‘my fault’ to take responsibility for other people’s sins in our lives what if we were to use the third ‘my most grievous fault’ and claim responsibility for the sins of the whole world. That sounds pretty ambitious. Megalomaniacal even, but what I mean is this: don’t I, in my own sin and selfishness, contribute to the sins of the whole world? What if I were to step out of my own little shell, my own little universe and see the connections? I’m involved. I am not an island. I am a part of the continent, a part of the main. I am a man, but I am also humanity in microcosm.
Have I not shared in the greed that has ruined our country? Have I not shared in the lust that has ruined families? Have I not shared in the pride, the envy, the gluttony, the sloth and the wrath that has soiled the world? Yes, I have, and when I cry, “My most grievous fault” in the Confiteo, perhaps I may, in my own small way, identify with Christ the Lord who really did take the sins of the whole world to himself, and perhaps in my own small way, I may come to understand more deeply the mystery of the cross of Christ.
Those who are into the sentimental promotion of ‘self esteem’ and ‘personal fulfillment’ and ‘individual liberation’ may be shocked at such a seeming debasement of the person. They may be dismayed by what seems to be yet more groveling and self abnegation. What they do not understand is the immense freedom and power that comes from genuine repentance. In this action I take responsibility (by God’s grace) and I rise above the faults. I am forgiven and I forgive. In this there is not only true freedom, but true self esteem, true fulfillment, and ultimately a supernatural joy.
Fr Dwight Longenecker is Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his website to browse his books and connect to his well known blog at www.dwightlongenecker.com Fr. Dwight Longenecker Website: www.dwightlongenecker.com Blog: Standing on My Head. His latest book is The Romance of Religion –Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty