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My Most Grievous Fault
Admitting you are wrong: Out Loud
We are living in a time where it becomes increasingly more difficult to admit one’s own fault publicly. Although as a Church we pound our chest in the midst of the communicate, and privately in the confessional, there is also a need to admit of our fault to one another. Sacred Scripture teaches us that we are to confess our sins to one another (James 5: 16). It might be convenient to consider this passage as directing our attention to a priest in the confessional, but this is too convenient to the prideful and ashamed soul.
Admitting our faults before others is something to do prudently, but for the sake of rebuilding a relationship. If the object of the will, the desire of the human heart, is to find reconciliation, then this will naturally be part of what we must do when we fail. And we all fail.
Institutionally, within the Church, and in every other organization, it is more and more difficult to do this. We might find ourselves only apologizing when “caught” in a sin, because if we admit of our fault publicly then all of a sudden we are admitting guilt and can be sued, harshly criticized, denounced, and cancelled. But the Church has to be different than worldly organizations. It has to lead by example how worldly organizations run professionally. And sometimes this means making ourselves vulnerable to a world full of accusers.
There is a lot to nuance here. For instance, if a person is in a country where they’d lose their head for admitting of a minor theft, I wouldn’t council that person to submit themselves to such unjust punishment. Nonetheless, where we are being agents of healing, and seeking healthy relationships, not with just the general public, but the specific persons wounded, it is incredibly important for us to admit of our faults.
A small anecdote from a pilgrimage I took is worth sharing in this regard. I led a pilgrimage through Eastern Europe, which was a challenging trip. The company organizing the pilgrimage dropped out, and I was left with the instruction and time-table for our day-to-day activities the day before we took flight. There were several problems with the program, as the schedule did not honestly address travel times.
We found ourselves as a group constantly late to various events, having to shave off items many had hoped to experience. Most of the group was comprised of seniors, who also had to use the bathroom quite often. We found ourselves stopping quite frequently, and my own father’s criticism was raised in my own mind: “Go to the bathroom before you leave.”
Then came the day where we were crossing from Croatia into Bosnia. If anyone has crossed that boarder, you know that the check-points can certainly delay travel. So I reminded the pilgrims to please ensure they used the washroom before we left. I could tell they were frustrated with a young priest telling them when to go to the washroom. My goal was to ensure we got the best out of our trip that day, since many of them were complaining about losing time. The missing piece in my mind was that seniors have different bladders than I do.
God, being one who helps us reach conclusions about our errors “from within ourselves” filled my bladder to the point of incredible pain. Ironically no one else in the bus experienced the same difficulty. I was in such incredible pain, and then discovered that all of our luggage was going to be taken off and searched.
As we finally got over the boarder, I would look at the window at each bush and tree, not as a beautiful creation, but an opportunity. Finally I caved, and asked the bus driver pull over at the next stop. Due to my pain I could not walk normally, and waddled my to the bathroom.
When I got back on the bus, I apologized, and told them God had taught me a valuable lesson of compassion. They all laughed and then started to clap. In the midst of this error coming to the surface, what won me over with the crowd was that I was willing to apologize. Many of them told me they had never experienced a priest doing that before. In the world, what most would think a sign of weakness, in reality, an apology demonstrates the strength of putting other’s judgments before you and honestly looking at them. That is strength, and that is also trust worthy.
When we apologize, typically we are not informing anyone of our sin: everyone typically already knows that. But we are giving up a type of worldly power, a self-protecting power over the narrative others have of us. They can now say, “See he admitted his fault.” But so long as we remain silent, or dig our heals into the narrative that we did nothing wrong or permit that to be conveyed by such silence, there is no trust.
“Trust” is the first step in pre-evangelization. No one will listen to us as members of the body of Christ. Yet, we tend to apply this to others and not to ourselves or our structures. The question arises, do the standards we as Christian leaders extend to others apply to ourselves as well? If we command prudent confidentiality, do we follow that ourselves? If we command professionalism, do we find ourselves triangulating in conflict? There are so many double standards that live in our world, especially in governing bodies. The reason is, a governing body is typically entirely preoccupied with the behavior of others - but it can fall into the error of evading self-reflection. This applies to the domestic Church and the Universal Church. It applies to the work place, to our friend-groups and our encounters with pilgrims.