Sunday, September 11, 2011

mad men and the church

For some reason I decided to start watching Mad Men.  I heard it was an interesting show, and we don't get whatever channel that carries it (at least I don't think we do), so we're going through the series via NetFlix, albeit at a rather slow pace.  Today we saw the fourth episode of the second season, titled "Three Sundays" (if you wish, you might want to view it, maybe through hulu or netflix or whatever) and I found two moments of the show to be especially noteworthy here.  The first I found very humorous, and the second I found to be a subtle but serious violation of priestly vows.  Both are good lessons for priests and seminarists, except that most these days, I fear, wouldn't even notice anything amiss in these examples.

1. A priest, Father Gill, is invited to a family dinner, and being set in the early 1960s, this Roman Catholic family naturally shows great respect, some practically fawning over him.  He is given the honor of saying grace, and so he prays a short but somewhat eloquent prayer that is clearly invented on the spot.  When he has completed this prayer, the lady says to him, "That was beautiful; are you going to say grace now?"  He then makes the sign of the cross, and says the traditional table blessing.  I loved this scene.  Whether intended as such by the writers or not, what it says is that people have a sense of tradition, and this woman in particular just didn't feel as though grace was said, however eloquent and meaningful the priest's prayer from the heart was.  When asked to stand up and pray, a priest does well to reinforce (and indeed in some cases reintroduce) the traditional prayers of the Church, such as the table blessing Luther preserved for us in the Catechism.

2.  In the confessional, a woman confesses, among other things, the sins of her sister.  She is angry about her sister getting away with her liberated lifestyle, and she spills the beans about the baby her sister has had out of wedlock.  Later in the episode, on Easter Sunday, the priest sees the woman (who secretly has a child) and hands her an Easter egg, and says, "for the little one."  This may be a clever way of "ministering" to her, of "opening lines of communication" with her, or whatever.  But one thing is for sure.  He has acted upon information he learned in the confessional, and he is out of line in doing so.



Chris Jones said...


My thought is that you are quite right on both points.

I should like to think that most priests would recognize something amiss, particularly with respect to the seal of the confessional. Every confessor that I have ever had has taken that obligation with the utmost seriousness. I recall one occasion when I asked the priest (during confession) for more extensive pastoral counseling (i.e. beyond what he could provide as part of confession itself) on a particular problem. He agreed, of course, but told me that I must speak to him about it, not he to me; because he was forbidden to mention anything heard in confession to anyone, even to the penitent himself, once the confession was over.

At the time I thought this overly strict, but I have come to see that the seal of the confessional has to be a bright-line rule, about which there can be no confusion or ambiguity.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

That's good to hear, Chris. I have had both good and bad experiences with confessors. The modern church is definitely a mixed bag.