Sin—there I said it—is a difficult topic to address and deal with today. I don’t think it has ever been on the “Top Ten” topics to talk about. Yet it seems that we really try to suppress the subject in our current world. Even in the places where you would imagine that the topic should come up—in church—it gets glossed over.
I was a pastor for 30 plus years and sin was not one of my favorite topics, in a sermon or otherwise. And even when there was a blatant issue of sin that was obvious to the whole community, it took all that I had to confront it, even in love.
As I prepared to come into the Roman Catholic Church in 2016, one of the things I had to do was make my first confession. I remember doing my examination of conscience covering 42 years since my baptism at the age of 17! The idea of making a list of my sins and declaring them in the confessional was daunting. “Father, forgive me for I have sinned…this is my first confession ever.”
I slogged through it. The priest didn’t throw me out of the confessional. And most importantly I heard the words of absolution: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, † and of the Holy Spirit.”
Every day when I go to Mass I look forward to the opening words spoken by the priest in what is known as the Penitential Act:
Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, (And, striking their breast, they say:) through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; (Then they continue:) therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
(The absolution by the Priest follows:) May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.
(The people reply:) Amen.
There is a shorter form, but I always look forward to the Confiteor in bold above. If I attend a Mass where it seems that the celebrant is “free-styling” I feel uncomfortable and wonder if once again we are trying to make ourselves feel better by “white washing” or minimizing the impact of our sin. One of those occasions is when “we” ask forgiveness for “missing the mark.” Now, I know the Greek word hamartia can be translated “missing the mark,” and that is a serious offense, but not in the way I’ve heard it presented. It seems more like the goal was 100% and I got 90% so for that 10% I’m sorry. The Confiteor says I have “greatly sinned” and I have, you have, all God’s children have!
That same Greek word is also translated, “to be without share in,” “to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong,” “to wander from the law of God, violate God’s divine law in thought or in act.”
I am so thankful when my confessor acknowledges that I have sinned. He doesn’t give me the excuse that I am human or that I only missed by a little bit. I didn’t say it makes me feel good, but it’s necessary for my soul to be honest! But then what incredible joy when I hear those words: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, † and of the Holy Spirit.”
I’m going to confession this Saturday. Won’t you join me?