Monday, July 14, 2008

The sin of pride

A nun makes a choice--about somebody's else's Order of Canada medal.

In the same spirit, I hereby freely renounce former Canadian citizen Conrad Black's Order of Canada, and would swiftly return his medal to Rideau Hall were it to come into my possession. And the old robber-baron isn't even dead yet. I'm not certain, however, that I would do more than post a short entry here about it. I enjoy the odd bout of self-righteousness, as some of my more ardent critics (and, privately, even some of my friends) might be quick to agree. But there are limits. No press conference, no op-ed piece. The gesture itself tells, I would think, the entire story.

Those who have read
Murder in the Cathedral might already know where I'm going with this. Archbishop Thomas Becket is facing imminent martyrdom. The most difficult question with which he must wrestle is whether pride, rather than devotion to God, is motivating his decision to remain in Canterbury to be killed. Does the Archbishop covet his martyrdom, and the ensuing devotion that will be paid him?

Sister Suzanne Stubbs, it seems to me, has not grappled sufficiently with this question. She might, after all, simply have returned the medal, even if it wasn't hers. But she chose, instead, to accompany this dubious act of sacrifice with an article in the
National Post and a press conference at Michaëlle Jean's place.

The article fairly reeks of prissy self-satisfaction. And, of course, not only are we called upon to admire the Sister's spotless conscience, we must also hold in high regard the sheer courage it took:

We knew we were taking a risk. We could expect some nasty feedback from friends and strangers. We certainly would be labelled in some way: right, left, pro, anti. We might be made to look foolish. I might even feel foolish at some point. Still, I made a choice to go to Ottawa.

To a gathering of media, the Sister claims, "We had no agenda except to perform a symbolic gesture. That is, we made a statement about what we believe to be true." In the full glare, of course, of as much publicity as she and her fellows could drum up in order to put their virtue on public display.

And how she drones on:

In my work at a Catholic organization, I try to help people know that they matter, too. It is a blessed work, and it gives me peace. In the work of our group, we spend time listening to people. We try to pay attention to them and be concerned for their concerns. We try not to give handouts in our charity work without befriending the person in need.

Yes, she feels their pain:

In my personal work, I've listened to the anguish of women who have suffered abortions. I have listened to the questions of the young who want to inform their consciences about abortion. In some cases, our friends are helped to consider and choose other options than destroying life. I guess my heart has taken in a lot of the pain of the others.

Now the point is not that she isn't sincere about all this. I have no reason to suppose that Sister Stubbs is a hypocrite. But there is something mildly disturbing about the apparent hunger for publicity that accompanied her grand gesture of renunciation. Was
her trip to Ottawa simply an opportunity to bear witness against the award of the Order of Canada to a person anathematized by her Church? Or was it, as Catholics might put it, an "occasion for sin"--in this case the cardinal sin of hubris?

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