Lesson 13- Examination Of Conscience [part 2]
I ended my last program by proposing that we need to exam our consciences so that we know what some of the issues are that we have to address if the present crisis in the economy is going to be a gift, that leads us to repentance and reform, or a disaster that, like the Tower of Babel, destroys us and leaves us in utter confusion. To repeat a statement from my previous program, “The past is history… the future is mystery… today is gift and that is why it is called “the present.” In other words, the past is over and there no way that we can change it. The future is yet to come and what it will hold is unknown and unpredictable. So all we have is now, the present, and, if we use it productively, it will become a present or gift from God that allows us to change our course so that we will avoid an even greater disaster in the future. So let’s not waste this opportunity to participate in the remaking and redirecting of human history towards its ultimate goal, the creation of the Kingdom of God on earth.
And who will lead us in this quest? Jesus, the Wisdom of God, who from the beginning of time was given the task, by His Father, to move the creation, through the necessary logical steps, towards its ultimate goal so that His Father’s Will may exist on earth as it is in heaven. That is why the scriptures referred to Him as the Logos or Logic of God and the Suffering Servant. He is the Logos or Logic of God because every great plan has to be implemented by a string of logical steps in order to move from potentiality to actuality. He is the Suffering Servant because anyone who has ever had the job of logically implementing a great plan or vision knows that it involves a great struggle, especially when one has to work with free agents, such as people, who are capable of derailing the effort. The nuns used to say that our sins caused Jesus to suffer and that we should try to make reparation for them by performing good acts. How, I used to wonder, could my sins make Jesus suffer and how could my good acts reduce it by making reparation.
When one considers that, as Christians, we believe that Jesus has been struggling from the beginning of time, over four billions years ago, to implement His Father’s plan, we begin to sense that His passion, death, and resurrection might symbolize the process though which this is accomplished. When seen from this perspective, it, like the Hegelian Dialectic, symbolizes the laws of growth and development that the universe is using to evolve towards the fullness of life. Jesus had said that unless the seed died, the plant would never materialize and in any progressive movement, we must constantly die to the old so that we might move on to the new. Or to use Hegelian terms, unless the Thesis, which is the present, is willing to let go of what is dysfunctional from the past by incorporating what is more functional in the future, it will never progress to the Synthesis that combines what is good in the past with what is better in the future. In other words, to return to the symbolism contained in Jesus’ Passion, unless we go through the Crucifixion, we will never experience the Resurrection. And that is what Jesus meant when He said, “If you want life and you want it fully, pick up your Cross, which has come to symbolize the problems of life, and follow Me, who is the Truth.
Since the word “sin” means to “miss the target” it represents all those things that stand in the way of Truth or Wisdom on it journey towards the “fullness of life.” Sin is evil, because it is anti-life and perhaps that is why it is “live” spelled backwards. And if we put a “d” in front of it, it becomes the devil, who is the Father of All Lies. This being the case, then all “sins” are obstructions to the Truth and increase its struggle towards its final end, the Truly Good, or God.
Thus, the nuns were right. Our sins really do add to the suffering of Jesus because, as God’s Suffering Servant, he must struggle to overcome and repair the consequences that the obstacle our sins places in His path on His upward struggle towards the fulfillment of His Father’s Plan. They were also right when they said that we could reduce His suffering by making reparation for our sins and the sins of other. The word reparation comes from the word “repair” and it means to “fix or correct that which was broken or wrong.” Therefore, whenever we “repent and reform” we make reparation for what we did wrong. And, when we go beyond this, by performing acts of corporal and/or spiritual works of mercy, we help to repair or make reparation for the sins of others. For example, it has occurred to me, that I am making reparation for the sins of my parents, both of whom had drinking problems. Their marriage, which lasted only four years, was a failure that impacted negatively on me and my brother and took their own lives in the direction futility and despair. Both my brother and I could have followed them down the same path but, in doing so, we would have been passing the “sins of our parents on to future generations” and added to Jesus’ struggle for fulfill His Fathers plan. However, we both have chosen, through the grace of God, to move in a different direction. He is a sincere Protestant who has been married over 50 years and I am a sincere Catholic who will be married for 49 years in another two months. Neither of us drink alcohol except occasionally when attending certain functions. I often say that between the two of us, we make one good Christian. He brings the good qualities of Protestanism and I bring what is good in Catholicism.
Through our lives we are making reparation for our parents’ sin by repairing the damage that they did to God’s plan. And, according to the Church, not only can we make reparation for the sins of our parents, we also can do it for the sins of other people that we know or even don’t know. This, I believe, is what indulgences are really about. Indulgences, according to the Church, are prayers or acts of charity done in the name of someone who has died. Through our prayers we call upon God to release the graces that will help those in Purgatory to repent of their venial sins and, to the extent they are able, to repair the damages their sins have done. We can help them to repair the damages by performing charitable acts in their name. If they were drug addicts, we can make reparation by refusing to use drugs ourselves and working to help other to avoid them. If they were selfish, we can be generous in their name. If they were unfaithful, we can be faithful. If they were liars, we can commit ourselves to telling the truth. This, by the way, is similar to the Twelve Step Program practiced by Alcoholics Anonymous which requires every recovering alcoholic to repair, as much as possible, the damage that his alcoholism has done to others. Except that in this situation, we are acting in behalf of those who are unable to repair the damage they did to the Cosmic Plan. In a sense, this is what the Church believes is the function of Purgatory. And, it must be pleasing go God because, by acting out of love for others we increase the presence of love among us. And that, as I said, is what it is all about.
But in a larger sense, we are decreasing the suffering of Jesus by reducing the amount of reparation that He must make for the sins of Mankind. Every virtuous act makes His struggle easier and every evil act adds to the burden that He must bear. And when we act with this intent, then we are truly the Body of Christ that, through our virtuous acts, brings salvation to the world. And as St. Paul says, we are called to make up for whatever is lacking in the suffering of Christ.
So let us return to our examination of conscience to determine the areas that, by following Wisdom, we are called upon to make reparation for the sins that brought us to this present crisis. I have already mentioned:
First, following World War II many of us decided to abandon the older urban parishes and their close relationships for better real estate in the suburbs. In a sense, we traded relationships for real estate. This had many negative consequences on the family, the Church, and the sense of community.
Second, we helped to make our children the target for many advertisers who were attracted by the money we gave them to compensate for the lack of time that we could spend with them. The result was a teenage subculture with its own attitudes and values that were often at odds with the adult culture.
Third, We created a lifestyle based on two incomes that bid up the cost of things and housing to the point that single income families were often in poverty and our own children had to go deeply into debt just to get a foothold in adult society.
Fourth, because of the decision to have two incomes, we lacked the time to properly form our children and surrendered the control and guidance of them to entertainers and the media who had no concern for their souls but only for their money.
Fifth, not only did we lose the control and guidance of our children to the media, but, without the sense of community with shared attitudes and values, we lost our own moral compasses and allowed our immature children to take the lead in terms of what they would see, hear, wear, or do. Our children, through their constant exposure to the gurus of modern cultures, share a consensus which is sadly lacking in their parents who are constantly undermined by the decisions of other parents who lacked any sense of what is proper and appropriate.
Sixth, we have allowed sport stars, wrestler, rock stars, and entertainers, who often model negative behavior, to become the role models to whom our children look up, while failing to develop healthy role models that would lead them in a positive direction. In particular, we have allowed their spirits to be shaped by music and musicians who pander to what is lowest in human nature.
Seventh, we have contributed to their becoming desensitized to violence by allowing them to spend hours memerized by video games that are becoming increasingly filled with gross violence and sex. Like the dumb girl in the movie Oklahoma, we’re just the people who “can’t say ‘No!”
Eighth, we have gamble with our children’s souls by being imprudent concerning fads like Harry Potter. Was it wise, in an environment in which non-Christian forces have stated that their aim is to overthrow Christianity and replace it with older pagan forms, such as the Wiccae and the Druid religions based on magic and witchcraft, to support and encourage the Harry Potter phenomena even in our Catholic schools so that our children are more knowledgeable and drawn to the pagan catechism than to their own? Maybe we have become so sophisticated in our own minds that we no longer believe in the devil or demons. And, according to C.S. Lewis the devil’s best defense is that he doesn’t exist. Yet St. Paul says we do not struggle against flesh and blood but against principalities and demons. To ignore his warning, especially when the souls of our children are at stake, is to gamble with their eternal destiny. In any gamble, prudence requires that we measure what is to be lost against what is to be gained. And we have gambled with the possible lost of our children’s souls and the undermining of our religious beliefs against an increase in their reading interests? Have people ever before risked their soul for a lesser price?
And to all of this our reply should be, mea culpa… mea culpa… mea maxima culpa… Through my fault… through my fault… through my most grievous fault!
However there are more issues that we must address in our examination of conscience as we try to discover how we have violated Wisdom and brought about the crisis we are experiencing. For example:
Was it wise for banks, with our cooperation, and the approval of the government, to issue credit cards to people with no income or insufficient income at “loan shark” rates. To be sure, the banks share in the fault by tempting us with easy credit but we were not innocent victims. In their greed they tempted us and in our foolishness we gave in. Had we been mature and wise, we would have realized that one can’t continue to spend money that we don’t or may never have and not expect that eventually there would come a day of reckoning.
Was it wise for us to create a false “super-heated” economy based on maxed-out credit cards. Physicists tell us that an electron that circle the proton in an atom has a normal orbit. If one inputs energy into the atom the electron’s orbit can expand outward. However, once the extra energy is removed, the electron will collapse and return to its normal path. The same can be said for an economy. When extra buying power is inserted into an economy, it will expand beyond it normal functioning. Production will increase, factories will be built, new businesses will be formed, jobs will be created and an air of prosperity will develop. And, all these things would be good if the money driving it came from real earnings. However, when the demand driving it is the result of a credit frenzy that sooner or later had to end, the resulting collapse will be catastrophic. And that is exactly what happened. We have already felt the collapse of the real estate market that devastated the banks. Now we are waiting for the collapse of the credit card industry as more and more people default on their credit card debt.
Was it wise for us to elect politicians who promised to give us more and tax us less, which any reasonable person would know is an impossibility. The money had to come from somewhere and it did. Our political leaders have been borrowing from China and other nations at an astounding rate and tapping into the Social Security Trust Fund, which has been reformed a couple of times and declared solvent only to become insolvent again. At this moment we are so much in hock to China, whose people have a high rate of saving compared to our negative rate, that if they ever decided to stop lending by refusing to buy our government bonds, our bailout strategy would collapse. It appears that both we and our politicians are addicted to spending OPM, other people’s money. And this allows both of us to make foolish decisions without any direct reality check that would reflect back to us the consequences of our decisions. And without this feedback, we are out of touch with reality and truth. Our political leaders, who should have given us a reality check, by telling us the exact cost in taxes for the programs that we demanded, hid it from us because they feared our rejection at the polls. Plato had pointed out that the great weakness of any democracy was that the people were often too immature or unable to direct public policy and that political leaders who depended on their support to stay in office were unable to make the hard decisions that are often necessary to solve complex problems. Even now our political leaders
shy away from confronting the public with its complicity in this mess by focusing the blame on bankers, stock brokers, and CEO’s, all who share in the blame, but they couldn’t have done it without our help.
Was it wise for us to place ourselves and many of our children in severe debt by making a college education the prerequisite for many jobs that didn’t require it. I know that this sounds like heresy coming from a former teacher but somebody has to say “that the emperor has no clothes.” We have allowed some well meaning people to sell us the idea that no child can make it or have much value without a college education. And we have laid a guilt trip on any parent and child who doesn’t buy into this lie. Unfortunately, this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy because we have convinced employers that they shouldn’t consider any candidate for a job who doesn’t possess the magical college degree. Why they couldn’t do many of these jobs without the degree is a mystery to which no one has the answer. The nuns used to say that your most valuable school record to which employers paid attention was your attendance. They seem to know what many of us seem to have forgotten. That is, that most jobs can be learned by reasonably intelligent people by doing them and what is most important in the performance of all of them is that you arrive everyday on time ready to work.
Having created the lie that a college degree was essential for doing many of these jobs and having established it as a criteria even for consideration by many employers, we were then forced to make it compulsory and available to more and more students whether they needed it or not or were capable of performing at that level. The result was a watering and dumbing down of our educational system on every level. The Middle Schools are trying to fill in the gaps left by the Elementary School, the High Schools are dealing with the gaps left by the Elementary and Middle Schools, and now our colleges and universities are trying to deal with the deficiencies left by previous levels with courses like Remedial Reading, Math, English etc…
But what else could we do? Having arbitrarily established the college degree as a prerequisite for employment and success, we had to find a way to give every child a degree so that they could participate in the society. And this created another problem because when everybody has a college degree, nobody has one. So now everybody has to go for a master’s degree in order to distinguish themselves from everybody else and eventually, they will have to have Doctorate Degree.
So now we have a growing number of young people who are in their mid and late twenties who still are in the process of preparing to assume their roles as adults in our society. To do this they have to go into greater debt, delay marriage and children, and, sometimes, remain dependent on parents long past the time when this should have ended. And all of this might be the result of a fictitious premise that we are unwilling to challenge.
Now I am not suggesting that college is not important for some people whose goals required advanced learning in specific areas. I am saying that many youngster whom I have taught were constantly urged to go on to college when they were barely handling high school work simply because we had made the degree a necessary credential for employment. A young man, who was attending the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School for Business, was giving a talk to some of my students on Career Day. After he had finished I ask him, “How much of what you are now learning at the Wharton School do you think you will use when you enter the business world. He replied, “Any where from nothing to twenty-five percent. Most employers insist that you follow their system which they will teach you.” “Then,” I responded, “this is a credential game that may have very little to do with reality.” “Yes!” he replied. And, I might add, it is a very expensive game. Of course, we don’t have to play it. We could stop lying and start telling the truth to our children and ourselves by having employers to begin to pay attention to the real qualities that are essential in any employee, that is, they are reasonably intelligent, capable of being taught, dependable, highly motivated, and willing to work.
I have been in the educational profession too long not to notice the consequences of this obsession of sending every child to college.
First, we are placing ourselves and our children in substantial debt as the cost for a college degree continues to rise. The college that I attended from 1956 to 1960 for $1600 a year now cost over $50,000 a year and it is considered to be a working class college. As a result, our children start their adult life already in severe debt and often, when they marry, it is debt marrying debt as both husband and wife have educational loans.
Second, a significant number of students end up doing job that have no relationships to their college degree either because there was an inadequate demand for what they studied or they really weren’t that interested in it. Years ago, a cartoon in a local paper showed a college graduating class throwing their caps into the air and Burger King hats returning to the ground. It was saying what my own son had observed. When he finished his four year stint in the Air Force, he had a GI Bill that granted him four years of education. He attended a Community College for two years and then decided to stop. When I asked why he made this decision, he said, “Dad, most of my friend who have college degrees are either unemployed or working at jobs that they could have done without the degree.” I couldn’t argue with that but I advised him to try to return simply because our society had made it a prerequisite for simply being considered for employment. He rejected my advice and decided to strike out on his own. Within a few years he had become a mortgage expert who was respected among his peers. How did he do it? By doing it! Everybody knows that the most effective way of learning anything is by doing it.
My youngest daughter has recently returned to the workforce after caring for her three youngest children for the past nine years. She was interested in working for an orthodontist and was ready to take courses costing $12,000. The orthodontist told her to forget the courses because she could be trained on the job. After six months of feeling anxious and inadequate and being tempted to quit, she finally broke through and discovered that she really liked the job and was quite capable of doing it. When a new girl arrived who had gone to school for this skill, my daughter was relieved and encouraged when she saw that she was experiencing the same feelings of anxiousness and inadequacy. It’s what we all have to go through whenever we enter a new environment.
Third, aside from the cost and sometimes lack of necessity of a college degree, we are extending our children’s entrance into the adult world by keeping them dependent on others to provide for their basic needs. I once asked one of my students why she was going to college, she said, “It’s your last chance to have a “fling.” Unfortunately, she was expressing the attitude of a number of other students. Witness the drinking binges and spring break orgies that have become ingrained traditions in some of our colleges and universities.
Also, by delaying their entrance into the adult world, we are pushing our children’s biological nature and needs beyond reasonable limits. Biologically they become sexual adults at puberty and in bygone days, marriages often took place in the mid or late teens. Thus moral rules involving sex and marriage were more reasonably enforced. However, as society became more complex and preparation for adulthood became longer, the strain on these moral rules became greater because no young man could reasonably consider marriage until he had a job. During my early years, this occurred sometime after finishing high school between 18 and 21. This increased the strain on our natural biological urges but it was still within reasonable bounds for many people. Now that we had added four or more years to prepare for economic independence, the strain is exceeding reasonable bounds and we can see that our moral rules are breaking down due to the increasing violations. Unless we find a way to allow our young adults to become economically able to start marriage at a younger age, we will continue to see the erosion of our moral values and the negative consequences that result.
The philosopher Schopenhauer once said that it should be “Life first and then books ” thereby indicating that life and experience are the primary teacher. Yet, we continue to practice “Books first and life second” and as a result we teachers spend most of our time giving answers to questions that the students never had and thus they were not totally ready to learn them. Once life raises a question that is when we are ready to fully receive the answer. The husband of my wife’s best friend once told me that he hated English and made the minimum effort to learn it. However, after graduating he was employed by a bank as a teller. Being married and having two children to support, he realized that he needed to rise higher than a teller to support them. He eventually became an assistant manager, manager, and vice president. The higher he rose the more he had to write letters and memos to customers and those above him. Knowing that his advancement depended on the impression he made, he spent hours writing and rewriting things that should have taken him only minutes if he had been confident in his knowledge of English. He was ready to learn it then but the time for the opportunity had already passed.
I must apologize for devoting so much time to the educational issue but as a teacher I have been so close to the problem for so long that I have very strong opinions about it. There has to be a better way. Let me now turn to another issue that we need to consider in our examination of conscience.
Was it wise for us to bid up the cost of real estate way beyond it actual value and to use the equity in the house as our saving and retirement fund. When my wife and I married, we lived in an apartment for two years before we had saved up enough for a down payment on a row house in Olney that cost $9,500. For twenty years we paid $80 a month and spent our last twelve years in Olney mortgage free. When I heard about the rising costs of house and the mortgage payments involved, I couldn’t believe that the quality of houses had risen so drastically in such a short time. And the only way that this could happen is that people were willing to bid up the price because they were using real estate for the secondary purpose of providing income for their retirement years. The idea was that we didn’t have to save any money because the sale of our homes would provide the nest egg we would need in later years.
And, of course, this led many people to pay exorbitant prices because they were confident that they could resell the house for an even higher price later on. And for a long time that was true. However, it was also true that as our own children grew up, married, and entered the real estate market, they were face with prices and mortgages that were far beyond those that my generation had to face. But they knew how the game was played. One survived by staying one step ahead of one’s creditors by having two incomes, a number of credit cards, and the belief that everything would all work out when they finally resold their house for a price much greater than what they paid. They learn to live with debt hanging over their heads and by avoiding the obvious consequence of any Ponzi game in which you had to “Rob Peter, to pay Paul.” Sooner or later the bubble would burst and whoever was holding the bag would be devastated.
Well, I haven’t finished our examination of conscience but that will have to wait until my next program because I see that my time is up.