Monthly Archives: February 2013

Humiliation vs. Shame

Sadly, the story itself is nothing new, and you can guess 90% of it from the headline alone: Records Detail Cardinal’s Failings in Abuse Scandal. What interested me as I read the piece on CNN’s Belief Blog was Cardinal Mahony’s reaction to the scandal in which he was caught. According to the article,

[Mahony] has recently taken to his personal blog, scribing an array of posts about praying for humiliation.

“… I am for the first time realizing that I should be praying for the very things from which I cringe, the disgrace I abhor, the fool that I seem,” he blogged on February 15.

CNN continued,

De Marco, the attorney conducting the deposition [of Mahony], said Mahony should feel one emotion far greater than humiliation: shame.

Cardinal Roger Mahony

Cardinal Roger Mahony

Mahony feels humiliation. The deposing attorney says he should feel shame. What’s the difference?

I decided to go and read Mahony’s recent blog posts on the subject to get his thoughts first-hand. It’s clear that he is feeling some heat, and he’s trying to turn it into an opportunity for spiritual growth, as he understands that concept.

See what you think of these excerpts (emphases mine).

From Called to Humiliation (February 14, 2013):

… few of us set out to embrace humility for Lent or as a pattern for our lives.  Most us us accept a few affronts and neglects as humility, and then move on.

But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are actually called to the fullness of humility:  humiliation, and publicly. …

In the past several days, I have experienced many examples of being humiliated.  In recent days, I have been confronted in various places by very unhappy people.  I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage–at me, at the Church, at about injustices that swirl around us.

Thanks to God’s special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them.

Over the coming days of our Lenten journey I hope to explore with all of you some deeper spiritual insights into what it really means to take up our cross daily and to follow Jesus–in rejection, in humiliation, and in personal attack.

From St. Ignatius Loyola and Humility (February 15, 2013):

[Ignatius'] most perfect kind of humility … consists in this.  … in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose … insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world.  So Christ was treated before me.

From Carrying a Scandal Biblically (February 20, 2013):

One very insightful and powerful Address has sustained me over these past difficult years as all of us in the Church had to face the fact that Catholic clergy sexually abused children and young people. …

Entitled On Carrying A Scandal Biblically it was first delivered in late 2002 by Father Ronald Rolheiser…

He calls our suffering what it really is:  painful and public humiliation, which is spiritually a grace-opportunity.  I have tried to live out–poorly and inadequately far too often–his two implications of humiliation:

1.   the acceptance of being scapegoated, pointing out the necessary connection between humiliation and redemption;

2.   this scandal is putting us, the clergy and the church, where we belong–with the excluded ones; Jesus was painted with the same brush as the two thieves crucified with him.

In a nutshell, Mahony is identifying with Jesus, who was indeed humiliated, especially at his crucifixion.

Does anyone else see how upside-down this is?

According to the Bible, Jesus was completely innocent. According to church documents, Mahony is guilty of obstructing justice.

He paints himself as the humiliated one. In none of his four most recent posts — all four about the fallout from the sex-abuse scandal — is there one word about the humiliation suffered by the boys who were abused by the priests Mahony abetted. He does admit that “Catholic clergy sexually abused children and young people,” but all discussion of human feeling is about his own so-called humiliation.

Based on how Mahony himself uses the word on his blog, humiliation is what one suffers when one has done right and yet is reviled (e.g., Jesus on the cross). There is a certain righteousness attached to it.

Attorney De Marco got it exactly right when he said that Mahony should be suffering shame rather than humiliation.

Shame is the complete opposite of humiliation. It does not struggle to embrace the approbation of society, as Mahony struggles on his blog, for one feels that the moral scales will be moved toward balance if one is punished. Most importantly, one who is truly ashamed is predominantly concerned with the feelings of those he has wronged, rather than with his own.

Mahony blogs that he is learning to pray for humiliation, but until he prays to feel shame, he will be praying in the wrong direction.

Knowing We’re Animals Makes Us More Humane

Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers and Human Friend

Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers and Human Friend

Friends of the family texted one of my daughters this weekend to say, “Are you sure you don’t want to take our dog? We’re thinking of giving him to a shelter.”

This dog, a six-year-old wheaten terrier, is totally in love with my daughter, and she with him. She will often take him for a weekend just so she can give him some much-needed exercise in the woods near our house. He goes absolutely mental when she picks him up for his visit. Once at our house, he whines pitifully when he is separated from her by as much as a bathroom door, refusing to be consoled by anyone else.

How would he feel if he were in a shelter? Would he wonder what he had done wrong, or why nobody loved him anymore? And how could my daughter bear it? The tragedy would be unfathomable.

We are able to form these deep, empathetic attachments to members of other species because we know they are much like us. We think of them as cousins, and that is what they are.

They may not think as deeply about their attachments to us, but I’ve blogged before about how “selfish-gene” theory explains why one species would evolve loving and even self-sacrificing behavior toward members of a closely related species.

And that brings me to the point of this post. Now and then, we’ll hear someone opine, “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.” (Although pastor Rick Warren has denied that this Tweet, sent within hours of the Aurora, Colorado school shooting, was an attempt to blame the event on the teaching of evolution, plenty of people gave a hearty “Amen” when they thought it was.)

Rick Warren aside, I have been told personally on multiple occasions that the teaching of evolution is to blame for various ways we treat each other poorly.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Before we humans knew that we were of the same stuff as the animals, we were not only crueler to animals than we are now, but crueler to each other as well.

I think there’s a connection.

When we finally became humane enough to ban bear-baiting in the 19th century, we became more likely to ban gay-bashing and lynching in the 20th.

Our growing empathy with animals has made us better people.

P.S. – Of course we have no choice but to take that wheaten terrier — at least until a good, permanent home can be found for him. We’ll see how that goes — haha!

Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin

Have you heard the maxim, “Love the sinner; hate the sin”? I’ve heard it dozens of times. It always seemed like a good principle, and I do think it is well-meant.

This week, I read a wise follow-on:

Part of “loving the sinner” must be making sure that legitimate desires and activities are not unjustly classified as “sin.”

Excellent point! Do we love “sinners” enough to do the hard and painful work questioning our most basic assumptions?

The phrase love the sinner but hate the sin originated in Augustine’s letter 211, written to a group of nuns. The “sins” he has in view are excessive eye contact with men and receiving letters or gifts from men.

Though a passing glance be directed towards any man, let your eyes look fixedly at none; for when you are walking you are not forbidden to see men, but you must neither let your desires go out to them, nor wish to be the objects of desire on their part.

If any nun violates this dictum, the others are to discipline her “with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin.”

He continues,

But if any one among you has gone on into so great sin as to receive secretly from any man letters or gifts of any description, let her be pardoned and prayed for if she confess this of her own accord. If, however, she is found out and is convicted of such conduct, let her be more severely punished…

To be sure, each nun had made a vow of celibacy and violating any vow is a serious matter. However, many people today, including many Catholics, question the wisdom of such vows in the first place. They wonder whether natural sexual interest, even by members of religious orders, is really a sin and whether suppressing it so ruthlessly does more harm than good.

I’m encouraged to see more and more of this kind of questioning. Voters in two states recently legalized marijuana use. As of this writing, nine states allow same-sex marriage. The citizenry is loving the sinner by taking a fresh look at their own long-standing ideas about the sins.

At the same time, we are becoming more aware of sins that do real harm — sins like dogmatism and prejudice.

What do you think? Are we going to hell in a hand-basket, or are we throwing the hand-basket into the abyss and climbing toward fresh air?