It has been one month since my last blog post and these are my sins…
If you’re Catholic, you should be fairly familiar with this paraphrase. When I realised just how long it had been since I had written something, this religious statement – for reasons completely unknown – randomly popped into my head. Perhaps I equate my neglect of writing as a sin; perhaps my subconscious is telling me that I’ve been particularly “bad” this month and ought to repent; or perhaps it was just a momentarily blip, attributable to nothing more than the random inner workings of my mind. Who knows? Nonetheless, it popped. It got me thinking about the entire confessional process. While I’ve grown up with the practice and been a regular participant, in terms of its history and influences, I know little of it. Even outside its religious connotations, I wonder about the paradigm itself – the idea of admitting to one’s wrong doings and repenting.
As a child, our sins are easily defined. For instance, I remember the most popularly cited misdemeanors of my youth – fighting with my brothers and sisters, being disobedient to my parents, cursing, telling lies, not doing my homework etc. As (bad) practice had it, you would regurgitate a handful of these “sins”, making sure to suitably vary these on each occasion (as though the Priest made a formal catalogue on every appearance), and using the most apologetic tone of voice you could muster up as a child, bare whatever soul it was you had to bare at this early stage of life.
Now, as I’ve matured (I use this term loosely), the boundary between wrong and right seems less certain. While we can accept certain unanimous truths – that hurting others etc is wrong – the realities of right and wrong begin to haze as we face countless situations throughout our lives rife with ambiguity and complexity. That line that was once so penetrating as a child begins to dissolve. As we begin to assume our own mindsets and question the words of our elders and superiors, we learn to form our own opinions of what is wrong and vice versa, leaving the practice of Confession vulnerable. It all becomes a lot more complicated than “not doing my homework”. The more avid religious followers among us would probably argue that there’s nothing complicated about it.
I myself have not formally confessed, so to speak, in years. It’s remarkable when I consider my frequent attendance as a youth: when I was then so innocent to the ways of the world and generally unaware of the implications of “sin”. To sin has been defined as “to miss the mark” and believe me, I miss the mark more now than I ever did. Surely I should be a highly skilled confessor by now. But if truth be told, the idea frightens me. This led, not only, to the question of why I now refrain, but why we practice it in the first place.
Understandably, after all this time there is a level of reluctance on my part. Like anything in life, once out of practice, we become vulnerable and uncomfortable, but perhaps especially in this instance. During this process, we are completely exposed. We are centre stage in, what is essentially, a role play with God. We’re immediately transposed into a situation which is designed to bring out the worst in us: an admission of past grievances which we barely want to admit to ourselves, let alone a Priest… let alone God.
The whole process of Confession is inherently tied up in the concept of forgiveness. Without the latter, the former would become redundant. Pain without relief. Even when you take religion out of the equation, the hope of forgiveness remains. We all strive for forgiveness. While I should probably quote the Bible at this stage, I feel compelled to quote Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer:
“To forgive is an act of compassion… It’s not done because people deserve it. It’s done because they need it.”
This concept transcends religion of any kind. Those without faith might argue that we use Confession selfishly – as a Get Out of Jail Free card – a way of “keeping in with” the big guy, but isn’t the entire process of forgiveness selfish? We use it as a means to make ourselves feel better, to confirm that we’re “not that bad” and that “there’s hope for us yet”. Perhaps Confession serves to heighten this process. It gives us a sense of satisfaction that our repentance has been formally acknowledged and that we can now “go in peace”, free from the shackles of guilt and shame. While religion looks to a higher power to exonerate us from our sins, forgiveness on earth asks those around us to grant us this privilege. Either we way, we want absolution.
We can, at any time, I believe make amends without the use of box. If we are prepared to recognise and admit our wrongs, we’ve taken the most difficult step. Whether it’s to a particular deity, a religious representative or a wronged party, confession is a fundamental part of our lives. Without it there is no means of forgiveness, no cause for hope, no opportunity to move on. Without it our guilt would only chew us up, leaving nothing but sinful scraps.
Alas, I digress. My sins are…