Lenten Dinner Church Confession
The following was delivered at our Lenten Dinner Church. No audio is available.
In the Catholic Church, confession is one of seven sacraments. Around second grade, you get your First Reconciliation, and you learn all about confessing your sins to a priest and the absolution and penance that comes afterward. And so, a few times a year—extra during Lent—reconciliation was built into my school day, because I went to Catholic school. The whole school would go, classes cycling through the auditorium. And I always went because of that unique brand of Catholic guilt, but I hated it. Beforehand, when we were encouraged to examine our conscience, we were given a list of potential sins—a menu of sorts to choose from. Lying. Swearing.
In high school, they added drinking and doing drugs to the list. And I, a boring overachiever, would confess the same stuff every time: being mean to my sister. Cursing. Lying. Whatever. Once I worked up the courage to confess “impure thoughts” when I was thirteen and I was so embarrassed that I cried for an hour. But I was never sorry for any of it. I didn’t really think saying a “bad” word was a sin. I wasn’t sorry for that one Sunday I missed mass. Even when I was young, I just didn’t buy into it. Sin felt less like a self-examination and more like a way to shame young people for doing normal teenager things.
And so, for years after high school and throughout college, I pretty much ignored sin. I hadn’t murdered anyone. I hadn’t committed adultery or robbed a bank or any other the other Sins-With-A-Capital-S, and so I kind of….figured that I was pretty good. So that’s the sin that I’m confessing right now—is that I thought, for so long, that sin didn’t really concern me. That I was above it. And by not letting the language of sin into my self-reflection and spirituality, I was preventing myself from being better, from doing better. But I’m working on that, and it’s mostly been in the past year or so that I’ve started to construct a personal theology of what sin is.
It’s this BIG, SCARY word for so many us, tied to things that are closer to shame, guilt, and silencing than real sin, I think. But I’ve started to talk about it differently—Kent has mentioned that “sin is anything that separates us from God,” and my personal working definition has been, “all those ways—big and small—in which we fail each other, and we fail ourselves.” And by building a new understanding of what sin is, I’m able to name those things and work on them, in order to bring myself closer to God.
And so yes! I have a lot a sin. I lie more easily than would like and am sometimes not as honest as I should be. I love gossip a little too much. I have unrealistic expectations of myself and others that can sometimes paralyze those close to me. I can be unnecessarily cruel and lack understanding when talking about my mom behind her back with my younger sister. I have a lifelong habit of taking old magazines from doctors’ offices. I often think I’m better than people, or that I’m more interesting than other people.
All of these things might seem small or insignificant, but I think this is what sin looks like for a lot of us in our daily lives---it’s the way we continually, habitually fail ourselves, others, and God. And so I’m not above sin, and it was hubris to ever think I was. But by naming and recognizing sin, I can now marvel at grace—and that is truly a gift.