I confess to Almighty God,
And to you, my brothers and sisters,
That I have sinned through my own fault,
In my thoughts and in my words,
In what I have done and what I have failed to do.
And 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.
I have a confession to make.
Though I sometimes feel compelled, it is always difficult to write about my interior life. Perhaps you read some of these essays and imagine you like what I have said. If you don't know me in person, you could well be left with the impression that I am holier than I am. This would be a mistake.
It is true that I attend Mass, I pray, I read the Scriptures. I believe in God. I spend time in monasteries. All this is fine, but it is not holiness.
My tastes are spartan, even austere to some. I don't crave the latest, newest, or best. For the most part, I am content with my lot. I have relatively few possessions. I love solitude and silence. All this is fine, but it is not holiness.
There is nothing wrong with these things, but the trappings of religion or the desire to live a simple life do not, in themselves, make us holy. These things can all be seen. It is entirely possible to do these things and still be very much of the world. This is not enough. What matters is our inner life: those things which are strictly between us and God.
The secrets of our hearts are known to us and Him alone. Perhaps we try to hide them, even from ourselves. But, if we are honest, we know what is there, and it can be ugly.
We try to console ourselves; I am a good person. There is usually some truth to this. A paralyzing scrupulosity or a blind self-hatred is not what we need. Perhaps we are good by some measures. Even so, I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts, my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do.
Sad, but true.
The Sacrament of Penance is perhaps the most misunderstood sacrament; misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This is unfortunate, for it has a power unlike any of the others. An examination of conscience, however brutal, is an exercise not in self-loathing, but in honesty. To say your sins aloud before another person is to confront them openly and repent. To hear the words of absolution is a physical sign that your prayer has been answered.
The Sacrament of Penance is not something we do for God. It is something God has done for us.
It is ironic that we live in such a confessional society. People confess their sins everywhere: in print, online, on TV: to psychiatrists, social workers, and talk show hosts. Clearly, we have a deep need to unburden ourselves.
When I was a boy, someone gave me a copy of T.A. For Tots. You remember the one: warm fuzzies and cold pricklies? I'm OK, you're OK? Even then I had my doubts about that. Now, I'm sure of it. In truth, neither one of us is all that OK, but we are loved all the same, and that is much better.
As we enter into this season of Lent, think of this: even Mother Teresa confessed her sins every week. What could she possibly have to confess? I don't know. But I know I am no Mother Teresa.
I have a confession to make.