In my 4th grade classroom—many, many moons ago—a certain incident occurred where the religious sister in charge tried to get to the bottom of an apparent theft. As I recall, something was allegedly taken from her desk and no one in the class wanted to own up to it. Her solution to finding out the culprit was to have each of us look at the crucifix and acknowledge our guilt or innocence before the Lord. Tell the truth and shame the devil! she exhorted us. Funny how I still remember this day with its many details and the moral teaching (honesty, truthfulness, integrity) she tried to convey to her young, impressionable students.
I think that this lesson can be applied in various situations today, beginning with ourselves. We should make an examination of conscience each and every day of our lives. This might be best suited to (but is not limited to) bedtime. Looking honestly at our actions of the day, perhaps kneeling before a crucifix, keeps us humble and focused on what I have done and what I have failed to do—words we recite during the Confiteor at Mass. This daily examen can help us prepare properly for a thorough confession of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
In addition to frequent confession, I urge people to be brutally honest in confession. If we were standing (or more appropriately prostrate) before God on Judgment Day, instead of being in the confessional, there will be no rationalization, no justification, no ambiguity. No one is ever going to make Almighty God the fool. While the priest is the minister of the sacrament, God is the Ultimate Judge. Imagine what it is like to see ourselves as God sees us and not as we want to present ourselves to others. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart. (1 Sam. 16: 7) Still, we should be ever confident of God’s abundant mercy, when we are honest with Him and with ourselves.
The home is the first classroom and parents are the first teachers. Do as I say and not as I do never made any sense to me. If you want your kids to be honest, then do not lie to them. If you want your children to do the right things, then you need to set the example. Children, like sponges, absorb many things.
Another situation calling for honesty and integrity is in the daily workplace or school. Have I become complacent with little white lies, gossip, “borrowing” things from the workplace/school and not returning them, etc.? Do I hide or compromise my religious beliefs in order to be politically correct? Can I be trusted? Ponder these words of wisdom for a few moments: The true test of character is what I would do even if no one ever found out. In truth, God sees everything. Yes, everything.
At this point in history, we need much more honesty and integrity in the Church universal. When the US bishops meet next week in Baltimore, will there be truth and transparency regarding the never-ending priest sex abuse scandal, or will we see some well-crafted statements prepared by attorneys or media experts? Will any guilty bishops actually be held accountable? Tell the truth and shame the devil. We need more thorough answers and not silence in response to all of Archbishop Viganò’s allegations. Tell the truth and shame the devil. Is any sign of remorse or admission of guilt forthcoming from the disgraced Archbishop McCarrick? Tell the truth and shame the devil. I could go on and on.
Admitting guilt, taking responsibility, and telling the truth often require courage and adherence to a properly-formed conscience. While it may be easier to lie so as to protect one’s image and reputation, the truth will come out in the end.
Better that it occurs now, before eternity is spent in company with the Father of Lies.
Fr. Ed Namiotka