Dealing with brokenness, and the unwillingness to admit mistakes

Joe Paprocki, the author of “A Church On the Move,” says Catholic parishes are in trouble “because most folks today don’t recognize their need to be saved” and “have little reason to squeeze churchgoing into their busy schedules.”

At the same time, Paprocki writes, “the church is no longer in a position to point fingers at sinners.” Instead, “it must focus on brokenness — the brokenness that is part of the human condition and that all of us share.” I think we could get into a long, complicated, and perhaps not very helpful discussion about his first assumption, but I think his remedy is right on target. Although there are some ways in which our culture seems to fixate on brokenness (the tabloid press, radio and TV talk channels, and self-help publishing industry would wither without it), in many other ways it tends to punish brokenness.

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It is almost impossible, at any level of public life, to admit that you made a mistake. It’s rare that clerks and wait staff will concede that they were at fault, and even more rare for political leaders to do so. Our children learn early on to develop what political strategists call “plausible deniability.” That once meant an excuse no one could readily disprove; lately, it seems, “plausibility” has been replaced by the bold and unapologetic ability to lie in the face of any evidence.

This is an important and timely challenge for the domestic church, where parents, grandparents, godparents – and by extension, teachers and catechists – are shaping the spiritual and moral lives of our children and youth. Children need to learn from adults’ example that people make mistakes. They need to see and hear adults confessing (in both the literal and sacramental sense of that word) that they were wrong. Many years ago, the author Dolores Curran pointed out that healthy Catholic families (intentionally or not) establish patterns, even rituals, for confessing mistakes and reconciling differences.

I remember one particular example of a family who told Curran they know everything’s going to be OK when mom goes to the kitchen and says, “Does anybody want a treat?” Children need to learn from example that we are all imperfect, limited, unfinished and sinful beings who do things wrong. In other words, we’re all broken. I’m not enough of a Scripture scholar to understand what Sunday’s Gospel was all about, but I’m guessing this business of being responsible in large and small things has something to do with simply being honest — in the face of the great tempta­tion we and our children face to be disingenuous and deceptive, to depend on “plausible deniability,” even about the smallest things. What do you think? Pray and Reflect Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group dis­cus­sion or private journaling:

• On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how easy it is today not to tell the truth. How would you have rated this five years ago?

• Can you identify specific examples of how children in your home, family or class­room see and hear adults admitting that they were wrong? Do you have patterns, habits or rituals by which children and adults can admit they are wrong and be reconciled? What more can we be doing to help children and youth recognize, accept and admit that they are broken?

• I think the best way to address our brokenness as human persons is…. Join the Conversation Add your comments to this week’s discussion at­Corner/.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is de­sign­ed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

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