Mea Culpa

“My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault” is what we will soon say in the Confiteo. I know, I know. We will be blamed for dishing out the guilt and making people feel bad, but I think it is going to be refreshing–and here’s why:

Our whole culture is awash with the pop psychology counseling mentality which encourages us to blame somebody else for our problems. “I have anger problems because my mother didn’t breast feed me” or “I am not self assertive enough because my mother didn’t breast feed me.” Every problem we have, every fault in our character, every weakness or sin we blame on somebody else. I heard a girl once excuse her promiscuity with the claim, “I sleep with lots of men because my father didn’t love me and I’m looking for a father’s love.” Or what about the guy who was unfaithful to his wife because, “I’m still looking for the perfect woman because my mother walked out on us when I was a kid.”

One of the side effects of this victim culture is that, because we blame other people for our problems and weaknesses, we also think that somebody else should solve our problems for us. There’s a logic to it: My problems were caused by somebody else. Somebody else should solve them for me. They’re not my responsibility. Thus the entitlement culture goes with the victim mentality. Somebody owes me a living. Somebody owes me solutions to my problems. Somebody else will bail me out.

The new Confiteo is a refreshing antidote to the victim-entitlement poison. I beat my breast and say, “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault” and as I do I take responsibility for myself in a most solemn threefold vow of acknowledgement. I take the blame. I take the responsibility. I take the problem as my own. This is one of the most mature things anybody can do in life–to take responsibility. To decide to do something about the problem, and if nothing can be done about it, then to bear the suffering with dignity and silence. This is not only mature, but it is a little touch of the God image in each of us. When I pick up the responsibility I am engaging my will and deciding that I am going to be involved. Me and nobody else but me.

Furthermore–let’s be even more radical and pick up other people’s trash. In other words, instead of being the poor little spoiled brat victim. Why don’t we be adult and clean up somebody else’s room? What I mean to say is that instead of blaming other people for our problems why don’t we not only take responsibility for our own sins and weaknesses and problems and failures, but why don’t we take responsibility for other’s as well?

OK, so maybe your father beat you up and your mother burned you with cigarettes and your teacher hit you with a paddle and your big brother abused you. What if you were to take responsibility for their sins as well as your own? What if we were to see the people who hurt us with hearts of compassion and be the agent of forgiveness towards them? What if we were to say, “Here I’ll take all that crap for you. I’ll take responsibility for the mess of your life as well as the mess of my life.” What if our first ‘mea culpa’ was for us, and the second was for other people who have messed us up? By taking responsibility in this way we will actually find forgiveness, healing and peace.

If we use the second ‘my fault’ to take responsibility for other people’s sins in our lives what if we were to use the third ‘my most grievous fault’ and claim responsibility for the sins of the whole world. That sounds pretty ambitious. Megalomaniacal even, but what I mean is this: don’t I, in my own sin and selfishness, contribute to the sins of the whole world? What if I were to step out of my own little shell, my own little universe and see the connections? I’m involved. I am not an island. I am a part of the continent, a part of the main. I am a man, but I am also humanity in microcosm.

Have I not shared in the greed that has ruined our country? Have I not shared in the lust that has ruined families? Have I not shared in the pride, the envy, the gluttony, the sloth and the wrath that has soiled the world?  Yes, I have, and when I cry, “My most grievous fault” in the new Confiteo, perhaps I may, in my own small way, identify with Christ the Lord who really did take the sins of the whole world to himself, and perhaps in my own small way, I may come to understand more deeply the mystery of the cross of Christ.

Those who are into the sentimental promotion of ‘self esteem’ and ‘personal fulfillment’ and ‘individual liberation’ may be shocked at such a seeming debasement of the person. They may be dismayed by what seems to be yet more groveling and self abnegation. What they do not understand is the immense freedom and power that comes from genuine repentance. In this action I take responsibility (by God’s grace) and I rise above the faults. I am forgiven and I forgive. In this there is not only true freedom, but true self esteem, true fulfillment, and ultimately a supernatural joy.

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  • Mary Grace of The Divine Mercy

    "I am forgiven, and I forgive". Through MY fault, Through MY fault, through MY most grievous fault! I will think of your interpretation of my, other's and the world's guilt, when I start the new translation–thanks Father.

  • doctoreric

    I think it needs to be said that we say "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault" for the same reason we say "Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.", "Holy, Holy, Holy", "Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.", and in the TLM we used to say "Lord I am not worthy that though shouldst come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Lord I am not worthy that though shouldst come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Lord I am not worthy that though shouldst come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." whereas now we say it only once.There is something holy in repeating things thrice to imitate the 3 Persons in 1 God. Also, I've read that Hebrew has no superlatives, so in Hebrew "the holiest" is "holy, holy, holy."

  • Tito Edwards

    Beautifully done Father.

  • broken

    I believe a sign of maturity is to realize life is not either-or it's both-and, so to say that "Our whole culture is awash with the pop psychology counseling mentality which encourages us to blame somebody else for our problems." Is not entirely accurate. In fact #5 of the twelve steps is: To admit our wrongs. I believe the world is in desperate need of good christian counselors esp. Catholic christian counselors. Taking responsiblity for ones sins is amazingly healing but it takes a while to get there(If not a lifetime). To encourage others to skip the pain of their abusive past and just move on and forgive is unwise. It's premature forgiveness and hyper-spiritualizing ones emotional pain. Much can be gained through embracing the pain and suffering of past abuse and it is through mercy for oneself that one can then come to mercy and forgiveness for their abuser for they come to realize that they too have abused others. Victims victimize. In regards to the second Mea Culpa I don't agree with taking the reponsiblity for others sins. Sure pray for them and their ability to take responsibilty for their own sins but "I didn't cause it, I can't control it. I can't cure it." Let them take their own trash to Jesus. He'll help them care of it. He won't do it for them and He shouldn't and neither should we. The third Mea Culpa I agree with; our hardness of hearts and "no" to God caused and causes the sin in the world. Bottom line I too believe the Mea Culpa we'll have a profound effect.

  • kkollwitz

    I don't know where I'd be without having been raised with a healthy Catholic sense of guilt.

  • Shaughn

    Padre,You wound me! Confiteor, from the deponent verb confiteor, confiteri, confessus sum, which means I confess. As far as I'm aware, confiteo isn't a form, and if it were, it would mean something bizarre like "I am confessed. . ."Pax tibi! :>

  • Gail F

    It won't be refreshing for me because we won't say it at our parish. We don't say the confiteor now.

  • Jenny

    Wow, wow, WOW! I'm usually not left speechless (just ask my husband), but you said it all, Father!!

  • Peter Brown

    I have to agree with broken's point above, Father. You made the point well on the first Mea Culpa, owning our individual sins, and the third one, owning our contribution to the structural sins of the world. I can't come up with a way to understand what you said about the second Mea Culpa that points to an inner disposition that's honest, though.Could you clarify what you're driving at on the second Mea Culpa?Thanks!Peace,–Peter

  • shumail ayub

    My believes of blaming others for my mistakes are very strong. But the think I hate most is about my behavior towards my mistakes. Making mistakes is not bad but after making then deny to accept it, try to change its effect through unethical ways, tell lie about its is the worse part of it. One lie will make a chain block for rest upcoming lies.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Peter, the second mea culpa is taking responsibility for the harm done to us by refusing to be bitter and unforgiving about it

  • gracedbeing

    Very well said Broken. Father, you might want to have your spiritual director read over your post. It seems a bit Protestant. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins; he didn't take on our sins. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their OWN sins, and if our reaction to the harm done to us is sinful, then we need to take responsibility for that. But as a priest you MUST NOT minimize the legitimate damage done to the many real victims in our world.

  • Darryl G. Wright

    I agree with everything you said up until the second-last paragraph. As an atheist the Christian aspects of this idea are meaningless to me but here again is another example where you don't need a god to be good. Everything you say stands with or without the divine entity looking down upon you. We should take responsibility for ourselves – not because there's a god – but because it's the right thing to do.

  • al4gzuz2

    Thank you. Excellent. True.

  • Mary F

    Wonderful post. I am looking forward to the new translation of the Confiteor because I knew that it had remained in the Latin novus ordo and had just been left out in the 1970 translation. More's the pity as I can see in my own life and in our society, the temptation or tendency to look at the "other" as the source of problems.You are spot on regarding the second point. It can be a powerful source of graces to take on the sins of others. There are saints and others of heroric virtue who have done the same. This does not mitigate the individual's responsiblity to own up to their own faults and failures, but those who offer up for their own faults and sins as well as others are truly walking in the steps of Christ.

  • Mr. Neutron

    Good catch Shaughn. Sloppy Latin leads to sloppy thinking. Next thing you know we'll be reading about kumbaya and liturgical dance. Best to nip this right in the bud.