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Bless me, Father, for – Oops! Battery died

We do not need a new app to see if we have lived the works of mercy

William Grimm William Grimm
  • William Grimm
  • Japan
  • February 16, 2011
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I am of the generation whose motto was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now that we are well over 30, I must confess that we were probably right.

I considered old people to be out-of-date relics. So, when an old priest asked me and a seminary classmate for some help in his parish, I expected that we would have nothing to learn from him. I was wrong.

“I want you to prepare a few adults for their first confessions,” he said. “Do what you want with them, but I recommend that you concentrate on the Beatitudes rather than the Commandments. The Commandments tell how all people should live. The Beatitudes tell how Christians should live.”

I was reminded of that priest when I saw reports of Confession: A Roman Catholic App, a new tool for use on iPhone and other iThings. Reportedly, the application provides guidelines for preparing to celebrate the sacrament, including an examination of conscience tailored to one’s age and state in life.

I have not yet experienced someone coming to confession with an electronic device, but I suppose it is simply a matter of time before that happens. I doubt I will use one myself, though it might be an interesting way to find out some age- and vocation-“appropriate” sins I have not yet tried.

Over the years, people have come to confession with scribbled lists, doodles, typewritten scripts and devotional pamphlets as aids in confessing. Others have a memorized confession that they have been using since childhood with little or no revision. Sometimes these aids are helpful. Often they are not and I recommend putting them aside. I expect the new app will be the same, except for the added danger of batteries draining midway through the sacrament.

There is, however, an aspect of iConfession that disappoints me. It is the same thing that bothered that priest so long ago: it is, according to the reports, based upon the Ten Commandments.

I am not in favor of repealing the Commandments. I like the idea that there is a divine mandate that no one kill me or steal from me, but I think that Matthew intended for Christians to see the Beatitudes as a new law by which to live. That is why he presents Jesus as teaching them on a mountain, like Moses who received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

To merely settle for the Ten is to miss something important about Christian living. By and large, the Commandments tell us what we must not do, or, rather, what we should stop doing that hinders or damages the coming Reign of God. But, if by some miracle the whole world were to obey those commandments, we still would not see the Kingdom come.

There are two reasons for that. The first is that the Kingdom is a gift of God, and the fulfillment of its promise depends upon God, not us. The second reason is that we are called to be heralds of that Kingdom, showing by our actions and words hints of what the Kingdom will be. That is a vocation to positive action, not merely passive avoidance of evildoing.

So, my examination of conscience must go beyond the Commandments to see if I have lived the works of mercy. The spiritual: instruct the uniformed, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead. The corporal: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit and ransom prisoners, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to bury the dead.

Confession can help us move toward that kind of life. We do not need a new app for that.

Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.

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