Catholic by Choice

I just returned from what would have been a wonderful, hard, exhilarating and uplifting workout at the gym- but for “Weiner-Gate”. Most people reading this piece know what I am referring to. The sad series of events which continues to propel Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York onto every television screen in America – and beyond – and make his awful behavior the subject of multiple conversations.

After a week of denying that he sent lewd and obscene photos of himself over social media to young women, during which he arrogantly and abusively excoriated almost every media source which had the seeming audacity to question his account, he finally, “fessed up” over national television. The scene is continually replayed it seems, as though it were set on some sort of endless media loop. 

This torrid and sad affair has is just the kind of salacious news story which takes on legs in a culture which has lost its moral compass and makes sport out of men and women who  self implode through what should be called what it is, sin. First, what Anthony Weiner did was an example of the merit behind the perennial Christian teaching concerning the effects of the original sin – when this proclivity to sin is not remediated by the grace of God.

St Paul addressed this dilemma with the Christians in Rome when he acknowledged an experience which is common to men and women. There are times when we do not do what we know is right. When we choose what is wrong. Catholic theology uses the word “concupiscence” to explain the disorder which is often at work, resulting in disordered appetites and passions. The choices we make when confronted with this problem are what determine the results. The Catholic Catechism explains:

“St. John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscence: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. (1 John 2:16) …Etymologically, “concupiscence” can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the “flesh” against the “spirit.” (Gal 5:16,17,24; Eph 2:3) Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man’s moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins.” (CCC #2514, – 2516)

However, Congressman Weiner’s initial transgression and the pain which it brought to his wife and himself are not really what is most important about this ongoing saga. He sinned and he and he alone must deal with the consequences. It was his behavior after being “found out” which is most instructive. He is a textbook example of what most of our mother’s taught us in that old saying, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”.

Anthony Weiner lied, plain and simple. And, after his lies were exposed, he lied again and again. Then, he finally “fessed up”, after it was clear that the lies were not “working”. We should pray for him, his wife, the young women who were victimized by his immoral behavior, his family and those who will judge the ramifications of his abuse of office and render any appropriate sanctions.

However, what actually makes this sad story worth reflecting upon is not the underlying facts and the salacious content. History is filled with similar stories. For the Congressman, what he says and does going forward will determine whether his immoral action becomes an occasion for his own redemption and amendment of life, thus becoming a tutor, or he choose to continue down the road of corruption, and his fall becomes a millstone. What makes it unique is that truth and the tangled web met twitter.

In this world of “social media, we all need to remember that these communications tools are simply an extension of us. They, like every one of our modes of communication, have behind them a moral agent, a human person, you and me. They can be used for good, or they can be used for evil, because they are an extension of us and our capacity to choose. Only human persons can be moral agents.

What we choose not only affects the world around us but changes us in the process. This entire matter should teach us again of our need for the Lord who is the Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6) He is the One who not only reveals the truth to us but then makes it possible for us to choose it. Our freedom was fractured by sin and the cross is the splint which restores it.

To end with some more insight from the Catechism, these words from the section on Man’s Freedom:

“As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

“The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.”(Romans 6:17 – CCC # 1732, 1733)

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