A few years ago, a harried day of motherhood and housewifery left me drained enough to seek out confession. I shot my confessor a look of chagrin and said, “so, wanting to launch a laundry basket at my husband’s head…that’s bad, right?”
The priest considered for a moment and said, “was the basket empty or full?”
In preparation for Easter I showed up at his screen this week and delivered myself of all that was burdening me, ending with, “I try to love everyone, I really do. But sometimes I’ll suddenly find some internet harridan all up in my face and it’s like my wrath is on autopilot; before I can stop myself, my heart and mind are yelling, ‘die, termagant, die!’ This can’t be good.”
“Well, you’re no longer plotting to smother anyone in laundry, so this is improvement,” he shrugged, “and we all have those unguarded moments, but you’re right; it’s not good. The things we make room for in our hearts matter.”
Of course they do; art moves from the heart through the hand to create masterpieces; rage moves from the heart through the hand to wreak havoc. This is precisely why Jesus Christ warned his followers that to lust in the heart is to already use and exploit another. It is why he advised us to keep our thoughts unencumbered — to let our yes be yes, and our no be no. Anything more than that tempts chaos.
These are not quaint ideas, but powerful truths that we moderns have lost touch with, and I go to confession because I understand that I have failed in following Christ’s lead. But I also go because I want to be challenged about it. I don’t want to hear “well, everyone gets mad, sometimes but you’re still a good person. It’s not like you killed someone, or anything…” because in truth, it’s not alright to give anger an opening, I’m not a “good person” and it is exactly like I killed someone.
Often when we feel bad about our own behavior — when the healthy conscience awakens and starts kicking for attention — that’s the comforting blanket of moral anesthesia we use to put it back to sleep: “it’s not like you killed someone; it’s not like you blew up a bridge,” as though only the most demonstrably and destructively malevolent actions can have meaningful impact on the soul or society. We lull ourselves back to into numbness and do not notice the accumulated effect all of our unrepented little “mistakes” — how they have helped tumble our world away from those old cornball ideas of mannerly social interaction, and toward the valley of hipster ironic sarcasm; away from respect for the opinion of others, into flamewars and political down-shouting; away from commitments and values which might cost us something, toward an illusory “freedom” that costs us everything.
The Holy Week recollection of the passion and death of Jesus Christ serves to remind us that it’s not enough to be a “good person” who does not blow up bridges. Jesus is surrounded by “nice” guys who left commerce to follow him — to heal, to give alms, to feed multitudes — and they drink too much to be able to keep him company when he asks. They engage in skirmishes. They run away. One of them betrays him for silver, another — the first of the “good persons,” the one who first pronounces Jesus as Messiah and holds the keys to the kingdom — betrays him with his tongue.
Our sense of sin has been dulled; these days we talk about our human “mistakes.” Yet we squirm in discomfort in the pews because we recognize ourselves in these weaklings and cowards and self-interested liars who will do anything to save themselves. It takes nothing to imagine that before Peter denied Christ to the woman by the fire, he first thought to himself, ‘Oh, die, termagant, die!’ and wondered if there was a laundry basket handy.
We can take comfort though, in the rest of the story. Jesus rises from the grave; these broken apostles are mended and elevated by grace.
Of this fullness, we all have a share; to give an opening to the workings of grace is to also arise in Christ; it is to fold the blanket of our soul-and-society-killing numbness, and leave it behind, like a shroud in an empty tomb.