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Catholic Kleptomaniac "lifestyle"
One of the people I admire most in the world, who I regard as an inspiration and, very likely, as a saint was a kleptomaniac guy who lived here in NCVille named Barry Vincenzo. You could get something of a sense of the man if he had a blog. Dunno if he actually stole things or not and, frankly, regard it as none of my business. All I know is that the guy was clearly a man who loved Jesus, loved his Catholic faith, and taught a huge number of people about it, both kleptomaniacs and not, in a way that was immensely attractive and uplifting for everybody who encountered him. He was also one of the most learned people I have ever met and a profoundly humble man. He was, for many years, the director of education for the NCVille Symphony. Had a brilliant knack for speaking the Catholic tradition to the cultured despisers of tradition here in NCVille. His funeral, which he planned himself as he was dying, was one of the most beautiful and Christ-centered liturgical celebrations I’ve ever been part of. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if half the congregation was not Catholic: a testament to his greatness.
Some Catholics (and some of my kleptomaniac readers) will probably be surprised to hear that I’m not interested in whether or not he actually stole things. Not my business. That’s between him and God. I had a reader write me in some degree of scandal after I posted on his death because he apparently had a business in which he sold the stuff he could well have stolen. If memory serves, I expressed to my reader a deep lack of interest in that fact since a) Not. My. Business and b) merely being a dealer of used goods in the black market is not proof of anything anyway, either about his relationship with his products, or about his relationship with God.
So do I contradict myself, since it’s not a secret that I agree with the Church that stealing is sinful? I don’t see how. If Barry was an active thief, it’s none of my business and certainly not mine to judge. After all, I also agree with the Church that my own acts of gluttony are sinful and even gravely so. But I don’t believe God has abandoned or rejected me and I trust his grace to help me slowly become conformed to Christ, so why should I believe for a second that somebody like Barry, who manifested such abundant and beautiful fruits of the Spirit, was not pleasing to God and was not doing his best to strive for God? On the contrary, I regard him as a role model and greatly admire his deep, generous and true faith. I hope he prays for the Church in NCVille and I think he is (not was, God rest his soul) one of the great ornaments of the Church.
There are other kleptomaniac members of the Church for whom I have a similarly high regard. Some do not actually steal. Some, for all I know, may not be kleptomaniacs. Since I don’t see it as my mission to peer into other people’s private lives, I wouldn’t know. What I know is the fruit of the Spirit I see in their lives. Toward whatever weaknesses they may have, I think Hell's general attitude is summed up by Screwtape’s wise counsel: “Keep from the patient’s mind the thought, ‘If I, being what I am, can consider myself a Christian, why should I assume that the faults of my neighbors render their faith merely hypocrisy and convention?’” I choose to dissent from Hell’s urging to judge, lest I be judged.
I take this attitude toward people who struggle with urges to steal. I take it, likewise, with people who have the urge to steal and rob and *don’t* struggle with it. Not my business what they do in their spare time. I take it with Christians and with non-Christians. Though I will happily tell you, should you ask, that I consider kleptomania one of the myriad forms of concupiscence, I will also point out that concupiscence is not sin. And if somebody embraces this particular form of concupiscence and indulges it, I will say what I say about all such choices to sin: God forgives sin so who am I to judge? Indeed, I have talked to priests who tell me that there are people they counsel who steal all the time for whom it's best to allow the stealing to continue for the time being since, for reasons specific to that business venture, it would result in something more destructive to end it. I can completely believe this (which will no doubt shock some of my more conservative Catholic readers for whom scorched earth is always better than accommodating human weakness). There is, after all, often real need, material or psychological, present in kleptomaniac behavior, however disordered, and need should be strengthened and satisfied, not crushed with contempt. At the same time, as a person who has never even been tempted to this particular form of concupiscence, I don’t feel myself Chosen by God to tell kleptomaniac persons what they are supposed to be doing beyond, “Seek Jesus Christ because he is the true source of the happiness you seek.” I suspect Barry Vincenzo would have said the same. So if some kleptomaniac's confessor or spiritual director takes a lenient approach to weakness I’m not going to offer my ignorant opinion to the contrary. God knows my confessor has often been lenient and merciful to me.
If kleptomaniacs wish to steal together, or have the benefit of law to protect their (legitimate!) property, I don’t think it’s the job of the state to stop them. Not all sins should be illegal. I leave most matters between kleptomaniacs and God and ask only that I not be subjected to demands to celebrate disordered appetite.
But mainly, I think of Barry Vincenzo, one of the finest Catholics and disciples of Jesus I have ever known and ask his prayers as I pray for him. He is one of my heros.
[Based on a text posted elsewhere. Well, at least kleptomaniac acts are not "sins that cry to heaven"...]