Monday, August 23, 2010

Treating confession as a statin for sins.

In the 15 August issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, it was apparently reported that a Dr Darrel Francis and his colleagues calculated that the reduction in cardiovascular risk offered by a statin (a drug that acts to reduce the level of fats, including triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood) is enough to offset the increase in heart attack risk from eating a cheeseburger and a milkshake. They’ve worked out that in terms of the likelihood of one having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce one’s risk to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it. And here is the most uproarious suggestion – they are proposing that fast food outlets provide these statins free with the meal that they serve, and as such, allow their customers to eat with much less risks of heart attacks due to clogged arteries.

A strange piece of apparently irrelevant information in the medical world to be mentioned in my spiritual blog, you may think. After all, what do I know about medicine? I was actually listening to my radio while doing my morning run last week when I heard this commented on by the radio announcer in between songs, and then it dawned upon me that this is precisely the kind of mentality that doesn’t help us much to address what really needs to be addressed in our lives - by a proper attitude, mentality and overall approach.

While Dr Francis and his team did say in their report that it is better to avoid fatty food altogether, this is not what their report centered on. Instead, what they are proposing is that people should be able to eat their burgers and have it (the statins, to be precise). Literally.

In discussions and conversations regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation and God’s mercy, I have often heard people remarking “It’s a good thing we have confession in the Catholic Church, because we can do what we want, and then after that, go for confession to get absolution”. With this view of God’s mercy and forgiveness, aren’t we a bit like Dr Francis and his team? The only difference is that the latter is connected to our physical health, while the former to our spiritual health.

The graces that we receive from encountering God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation must encourage us to want to make the needed changes in our lives to veer away from sin, to turn away – to be converted. It’s certainly not an excuse to allow us to sin in any carefree way. As Dr Francis pointed out, albeit briefly, it is better to avoid fatty food altogether. Health advocates have always said that it is better to change one’s lifestyle altogether rather than lean on the administration of a drug and think that it’s ok to continue a destructive or far less beneficial lifestyle and harmful eating habit. So too for the spiritual life.

But we seem to be obsessed with a ‘quick-fix’ world, where it is far easier and convenient to pop a pill, buy a diploma, buy on credit, hope for a strike in a visit to a casino, and get a strong and fast with steroids than to do the harder thing in life – change one’s lifestyle, learn by studying, save one’s salary, work hard and train and eat properly to get strong.

Have we as a people become so single-minded in our quest for getting what we want whenever we want and however we want? And when we find our plans and dreams for sustaining our defined happiness stymied, do we find ourselves finding loopholes and other openings just so that we can still get our ‘fix’ rather than look squarely at what may be harming us and say that it is those areas that need fixing instead? That’s whole area of life is called conversion, and I believe that it lies at the heart of every successful dieter, anyone who has truly made headways in making improvements to their health, and of course, anyone who has encountered God’s mercy and made the necessary changes that marks deep spiritual conversion.

Yes, it may be far easier to swallow a statin and eat that cheeseburger, but it would be wishful thinking that we have become healthier people. To be sure, the ability to change and experience true and lasting conversion doesn’t come overnight. It is a repeated “yes” to God and God’s will over and over and over again, with repeated falls and repeated experienced of his mercy and grace.

Just as no one becomes healthy overnight, neither does one become a saint overnight.


  1. Hi Father, I couldn't agree more. Sadly, i have encountered non-Christians who for the lack of sound examples have commented that "confession" is a quick fix to an "inevitable" human condition, Sin. I mean, its one thing for non christians to subscribe to such a notion but for Christians to think in such a way is disappointing.. Well, I take it that they are ill-informed he he.. hopefully, they will be enlightened.. in His time.. God bless ur work. Kevin.

  2. 'Will 10 Hail Marys or 20 Glory Be bring back the good name of the person you've slandered or wronged? What are you going to do about the wrong you've visited upon another through your ill-natured words or actions ?'- these words of my school principal & catechist ( an Irish nun)still ring in my ears whenever the subject of Confessions arises. I also learnt from her the all-important word 'Restitution' in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.It seems to be a forgotten word these days for as you've said,its just "...go for confession to get absolution..."

    Restitution is the act of restoring something to it's former or original position or status. So if I've wronged/sinned against another, I've to 'undo' this wrong.It will never be 100% successful for one wrong action can have far-reaching consequences, even touching the lives of many others intricately connected to the 'victim' of my action...people I do not & will not know. But try I must.

    Somehow I don't believe that forgiveness is withheld if there is no restitution, but if the God I believe in, is all-loving, all-compassionate, all-forgiving, he must be also all-just. So justice demands a reparation and perhaps this act is more necessary for me and my own healing than for that of the aggrieved party....for I would have to learn to live with the wrong I've wrought and to accept my 'damaged' or fallen self.

    So, we may be cheating ourselves and 'cheapening' the Sacrament of Reconciliation if we treat it as a local launderette for our soiled souls - we visit it occasionally because we are 'good catholics'.
    God bless you, Fr.

  3. Hi Fr. Luke,

    That's an interesting comparison you've made.

    I know of some who, because of some quick-fix solution, are somewhat devil-may-care in their eating habits. ("No need to worry, drink this concoction thrice a week, and it'll lower your cholestrol level.")

    What follows is a false sense of security; with the result that they carry on as if their health is assured, even though they might be 20 kilos overweight!

    In the words of the pop song (Faithful) which I rather like, "..nothing good comes easily."

    There are no short-cuts; it's "A long and winding Road" that hopefully, God willing, leads us home.

    God Bless,

  4. Hello Fr Luke,
    I have reflected upon your blog this week and please allow me to share, though my reflections may digress from this week's topic on "quick fixes". ;p

    And please do correct me if there be any aberration from church's teachings.

    What moved me to reflect was the mention of the flippant attitude some have toward God and His Sacraments (Reconciliation). I reflected that the ultimate root cause has to be the lack of fear (reverence) for God, which I too was once guilty of.

    As a cradle Catholic, in my growing years, God had always been presented to me as a loving Father who forgives and loves unconditionally. While that is absolutely true of God's divine nature, these teachings, on the hindsight, had also caused me for many years,to have taken God's love and his sacraments for granted... erroneously thinking God can't help but love and forgive me because that is His nature. So I am free to do whatever I want... as long as I go confession as part of the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for sinning.

    I have learnt since. For while God is Love, Love is Not God. Our God is so much more. He is also Holy, Just and Righteous. HE is OMNIPOTENT,GOD ALMIGHTY!

    If God is only love and mercy, there is no need for Christ to die in our stead for sins. God can just easily wipe away all our sins if He is only the pampering loving Father.

    Perhaps we forgot or lack of, the basic awe and reverence and gratitude owe to God, thus, we can so easily condone sins repeatedly, with nonchalance.

    We need to bear in mind, how much God hates sin.
    And if we possess true fear/awe & reverence for God, we would be in mourning, for having offended and hurting God.

    Proverbs 1:7 - The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of Knowledge/Wisdom.

    Deuteronomy 10:12 - So now, Israel, what is it that Yahweh your God, ask of you but to fear him and follow all his ways? Love him and serve him, with all your heart and with all your soul.

    Thank U Fr Luke. God be with you always.

    Laura Lim (Singapore)

  5. Dear Father Luke,

    A few months ago, I heard your sermon on Confession and was very inspired by it. However there was something that has been nagging me for years about the sacrament in our Churches- it seems to be disappearing.

    Confessionals are empty where once you saw a queue lined up. Modern churches are built with confessionals hidden away. Our children have no opportunity to ask "what goes on in there" because it has all but disappeared! Seemingly so, at least.

    I commend the good and faithful work that the fathers in OLSS are doing, their initiatives are truly awakening and I believing transforming this community. As part of this "awakening" community, I feel it is my duty and my call to draw more attention to the practical issues of actually going for confession.

    I cannot imagine the load on the fathers' backs already, how can they possibly wait for repentants in the confessionals, who are few and far between and when there are so many other needs to address? (I'm not implying that the confessionals are empty always because I've met people who seem to have no problems seeing a priest.) If parishioners take up the call to confession, how could our priests cope?

    I wonder if a monthly, bimonthly or quarterly penitential service held on a weekday nite would help to encourage confession and yet make it truly possible. Perhaps it could even be a joint initiative by churches in the same area.

    My apologies Father Luke, if I seem audacious. I tried to sweep this under the carpet, saying perhaps it's me, maybe I need to visit the priest in the office. I'm certain many parishioners, like me, will be intimidated by this option. Hence it continued to nag me...

    Visiting your blog today, seems like a reminder (from up above hopefully) to pen this message.

    Thank you Father Luke, Father JJ and Father Noel for shepherding us. Your words and deeds show you really care about what it means to be church for your people.

    God Bless you!