As Christians the world over are about to begin the first full week of Lent, a period of forty days (and, yes, nights) of penitential preparation for the coming feast of Easter, the matters of sin, contrition, confession, absolution, and reconciliation come easily enough to the Catholic mind. So Tiger Woods’ public admission of sin, guilt, remorse, and apology – his search for forgiveness (even though a Buddhist) — could hardly been timed more appropriately.
The hoots of derision and skepticism that greeted his confession seemed less so and disturbingly hard-hearted for a reputedly “Christian nation” – as we are led to believe we are by the Tea Party folks, the Moral Majority, and other nativists.
The unwillingness of many Americans to grant absolution, much less forgiveness, for admitted wrong-doing and apology has a depressingly long history. If TV talk shows and morning news specials are any guide, there is still a stack of unused scarlet letters out there just waiting for the Puritan needle and thread.
Public confession, penance, and absolution fell out of practice pretty early in Christian history, first in the Irish church in the sixth century and for Latin Christendom in the thirteenth, when private confession became the norm. In a world dominated by “news” of the antics of media celebrities it now bids fair to return in force. One recent national news report even ran a montage of famous, sometimes tearful public confessions, from Bakker and Clinton to Haggard and Swaggart, including Michael Jordan and possibly Magic Johnson (I didn’t catch them all). Americans appear to delight in public humiliation and a bit of groveling (Bernie Madoff being a cruel disappointment). However we are curiously reluctant to grant forgiveness, which means, quite simply, let the repentant sinner off the hook now. It’s a perilous stance, though, if we take Jesus’ injunction into account:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven….” (Luke 6:37)
Or even old St. Paul’s warning:
“…you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Romans 2:1)
That hurts. OK, Tiger, it’s enough. Pay no attention to all those folks standing around with stones in their itchy palms. Go now in peace. And, to be on the safe side, don’t do it again….