“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was about a year ago. Since then, I used vulgar language about three times. That’s about all I can remember, Father. For these and all my sins, I am heartily sorry.”
So goes the lukewarm penitent, only superficially aware of his sin, yet still tepidly compliant with the Lord’s intent that we should confess. I hear such confessions routinely every Saturday—and often enough, I’ve made them to my own confessor, with only slight elaboration. Yet, every once in a while, a penitent cracks open a door, “Father, it seems like there should be something more to this.”
Yes. Yes, it does so seem, and yes, there is something more. The tragedy of sin is well dramatised in the New Testament and in the stories of so many saints. “Unless you repent, you will all perish!”
Just so, sin impedes our reception of grace. We may immerse ourselves in Scripture or the sacraments, in prayer or study, in service or sacrifice, but our immersion avails us little if we are too well insulated by the scales of unacknowledged, unrepentant sin.
To heal us, to perfect us, the Lord Jesus is willing to dig more deeply into us than we would ever dig into ourselves. Where we might gloss, “At least I didn’t murder anyone this week, at least I didn’t commit adultery,” he judges our every angry word tantamount to murder, our every lustful thought tantamount to adultery.
And even if my conscience is so dulled that I still discern in my soul no sins of commission, there are always the sins of omission. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Our defiant disability
These instructions highlight our defiant disability. Were I to strive to exceed the Pharisees in righteousness, I would merely succeed in turning myself into—well, into the Pharisee of Jesus’ parable. Were I to love my brother Christians as the Lord has loved me, I would be hanging on a cross instead of writing this note.
But thanks be to God, our Lord not only cuts deep with his Word: He also pulls away our sin-scales, and tosses us into the healing well. To confess my sins as Jesus judges them, whether the sins of commission or the sins of omission—the deeper confession confronts me with the painful truth that I am still a selfish, unloving man, but the relief is all the richer, the forgiveness more fully felt.
Better still, once stripped and washed by Jesus, I catch a glimpse of the man he will make out of me—as yet pasty and scrawny, to be sure, but a man. – Fr David Poecking @ firstthings