After a rather lengthy absence from blogging — between my personal life and my work, including a coding binge during April so that I could take a nearly three-week vacation in May (including two glorious weeks in England... post coming on that later) — I'm back on the scene.
By now you have heard of Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-D) and "Weinergate". Long story short: congressman has sexually explicit conversations with several women online and on the phone, and accidentally sends a woman an inappropriate picture via a public tweet. (He meant it to be a direct message, a private tweet.) In a panic, he began concocting a fable that his Twitter account was hacked, and that he was the victim of some hoax or prank. Yesterday, he set the record straight and took responsibility for his actions; he was visibly distressed during his public apology, which appeared heartfelt.
What can we learn from this? What can be gained by looking at this little (?) scandal from a Catholic perspective? A little foray into the Catechism of the Catholic Church (II.2.2.4 — The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, specifically nn. 1451-1454) sheds light on the matter.
When it comes to sin and reconciliation, Catholic theology calls the sinner's first step towards reconciliation contrition. The Catechism defines it as "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again." (CCC 1451) The Catechism goes further and distinguishes between two kinds of contrition: imperfect and perfect.
Imperfect contrition is what we express when we consider the ugliness of sin or, more likely (I think), the eternal ramifications that our sins have on our own selves. Yes, I'm talking about "the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner." (CCC 1453) This imperfect contrition (also called attrition) is a contrition which grows out of fear. This sort of contrition is not the ideal, but it is still a gift of God, a movement of the Holy Spirit within us: it is sufficient for our honest entreaty to God for pardon and forgiveness, which is brought to completion in sacramental confession. Imperfect contrition is infinitely and eternally better than no contrition!
The ideal, however, is perfect contrition. While imperfect contrition is derived from fear of Hell, perfect contrition is derived from love of God, "a love by which God is loved above all else." (CCC 1452) Instead of thinking of ourselves and the mess we've gotten into, we think of God and how, by sinning, we have offended Him, Who is "all good and deserving of all [our] love", as one popular Act of Contrition puts it. This contrition moves us to be sorry for our sins out of our love for such a great and merciful God, a God Who endured the Passion and Crucifixion for us, because of our sins.
So what does this have to do with Rep. Weiner, the scandal, and the public apology?
If we take Rep. Weiner at his word, he is "deeply sorry" for the "terrible mistakes" he had made. He is aware of "the pain this has caused" his wife, family, constituents, friends, supporters, and staff. (Realize that his staff was told to lie about the situation — whether they knew it or not, they were spreading mistruths by advancing the "hacking" fable.) He admits to not telling the truth and to doing things he "deeply regret[s]", and he apologizes for it. He is "deeply ashamed of [his] terrible judgment and actions." One would hope he will not make this errors in judgment in the future; that is, that he has a "firm purpose of amendment." (He did not make this clear in his statement.)
Rep. Weiner is showing contrition for his sins, even if he didn't say it that way. But let us consider why he is contrite: due to a small accident of his keyboard, his actions were suddenly made public, brought to light. I'm sure he would have preferred no one else ever knew about these things. But because his conduct is becoming public knowledge, he feels remorse for what he has done. I think we could consider that "imperfect contrition". Who knows if he would have ever been moved to contrition if that inappropriate picture had been privately (rather than publicly) transmitted?
But let us not find ourselves in Anthony's situation of having a private mess made public, compounding our sin with more sin (such as lying), compelling us to come clean. We should not wait for imperfect contrition, for a soul-shuddering fear of Hell to move us to ask God for pardon. We must want to love God more fully so that our fear diminishes — as St. John so eloquently wrote in 1 John 4:18, perfect love casts out fear. Let us learn from Anthony's mistakes, and our own, and approach the throne of grace and mercy, not looking over the precipice to the depths below, but looking ahead and up at our loving Father. May we receive the grace to be truly and perfectly contrite for our sins.