I don’t like to fail. I don’t like to fall. I’m embarrassed when I stumble and blush when I put my foot in my mouth (which happens more than I like to admit). As much as I don’t like to fail there is something I despise even more: admitting it. But once I admit it, I have yet another problem: getting over it. I hold my failure over my head and bash myself mercilessly. I am a pro at punishing myself. Now, if you’re already calling me “neurotic” or “guilt ridden” I suppose you might have a case. But my work in the church has convinced me of one thing: I’m not alone. How often have you said:
“I can’t believe I did that, again!”
“Why did I say that?”
“Why can’t I get this right?”
“Is there a reason I can’t break this habit?”
“Does God still forgive me?”
Many people ask these questions quite often. By and large I believe that we don’t know what to do with our failure, with our sin. If we are Catholic, confession should be the definitive answer. But all too often it is not. Not because God hasn’t forgiven us, He promised that. So often our problem is accepting the forgiveness He offers. How can we move past our sin and accept the forgiveness of God?
Insight 1: Your Sin Doesn’t Surprise God
Think about it for a moment. Do you really think God is caught off guard by what you did? Do you think God says, “My, my, I can’t believe that s/he has done that? What will s/he think of next?”
Consider this: Would He have given us confession if He didn’t think we needed it?
Confession was given to us as a gift by our God who knew that we would fall short. He knew that we would need a way to deal with our failings, our tendency to do our own thing and not His. We are invited (and yes, in many cases required) to partake of this grace-giving sacrament precisely because we sin. Our Lord didn’t institute this sacrament “in case” we needed it, but because He knew we needed it. No. Breathe a breath of thanksgiving because our failings do not catch Him off-guard. He has anticipated them.
Insight 2: Awareness of Sin is the First Step to Reconciliation
Be glad that you are aware of sin in your life. Why? Because there is something worse: being ignorant of it. Because you are aware of it, you are sensitive to the voice of your conscience and, more importantly, the voice of God. There is obviously part of you that wants to please God. Being aware of our sin is the first step to coming home. This is borne out in the story of the Prodigal Son. In Luke 15:18-19, we hear the Prodigal son’s recognition of this: “I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.'” This is the Prodigal’s first step on his journey home.
Insight 3: God Never Rejects the Repentant Sinner
When you seek God’s forgiveness He will not scoff or turn away. We may recoil (rightly to be sure) at our actions, but when we seek God He does not recoil at us. Again, consider the Prodigal son. He doesn’t even make it home before his Father runs out to offer welcome and forgiveness. The Prodigal never makes if fully through his rehearsed speech before his Father embraces him and begins making plans for his party. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NAB). Let this image inform your soul as to how God views His repentant children. Every time we make a good confession, we are embraced by God Who rejoices at “one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Insight 4: To Reject Our Own Forgiveness Is not Humility but Narcissism
Having been forgiven and embraced by God, we do not need to further punish ourselves for our sin. When we do this we retreat into ourselves, often falling into despair. We become so concerned with our sin, our failure, that we quit looking toward Christ and continue looking inward. This further alienates us from God, and, this is key, it continues to give the sin (already forgiven) power over us! We must reject this tendency and fully and freely remind ourselves that God’s power and grace are far stronger than whatever it is that we have done. We must take courage and trust in God’s power and promise and the absolution we have received.
Insight 5: Begin Again
Blessed Josemaria Escriva wrote in his phenomenal work, The Way, “Another fall…and what a fall! Despair? No! Humble yourself and through Mary, your mother, have recourse to the merciful love of Jesus…lift up your heart! And now, begin again” (The Way, #711). Having been forgiven, our faithful response to God is to begin again. In fact our acceptance of God’s forgiveness is how we show our love and thankfulness to God. In starting over we can not only be thankful for God’s mercy and love but also for the way that our temptations and sin actually become occasions that call us to seek God and be strengthened in our faith. We learn how to resist, how to flee temptation but we also learn how great God’s forgiveness truly is. With hope and even joy, we can begin again. That is good news!
We sin. We all fail. We all stumble in our walk with Christ. This isn’t news to God who gave us the sacrament of confession. We should be glad for our awareness of sin and thankful that our repentant hearts are never shunned by God, but welcomed home. We must be careful not to be too inward looking and understand that the most faithful response to God’s mercy is our acceptance of it. Joyfully, we are actually called to begin again, hopefully wiser and more humble in our faith.
Confession is good for the soul. We are all prodigals. I am thankful that as messed up as I am, the Father is already running down the road to meet me. He’s doing the same for you.