“We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. I have heard others, and I have heard myself, recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood as if they were no concern of the present speaker’s, and even with laughter. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ: if we have repented these early sins we should remember the price of our forgiveness and be humble.”
Sin is a bit of a taboo subject nowadays. But it is no less a reality in our lives. In our baptismal covenant we commit to “persevere in resisting evil and, whenever [we] fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” This sounds like a lot when we say it – but truth be told we all know when we have messed up. We all know when we have ceded to temptation. We all know when we need to be forgiven. The question is, are we able to step up and ask for that forgiveness? Have we lost touch with what repentance looks like?
Part of the problem lies in the fact that we live in a world that lacks accountability. Take a look at what is happening in Ottawa if you have any doubt. We have politicians who have broken rules, pushed boundaries, broken laws, abused trust and the example they give us is to pass the buck or make excuses. The same holds true for celebrities etc. Everyday we are given examples of how to not take account of our own mistakes and our own sins. We are inundated with examples via many forms of media that reinforce the message that we do not need to be held to account – ‘it’s someone else’s fault.’
Remember when our parents taught us to be accountable for our own missteps? I know it was futile for me to return home from school and tell my parents that I was disciplined at school and look for sympathy. If my mother knew I wronged anyone, she instructed me to seek forgiveness. Passing it off as a product of someone else’s behavior was not acceptable. An example comes to mind. When I was ten or twelve years old I always struggled to fit in. Of all the people in the world who should have been careful not to bully anyone else – I should have been most keenly aware. One day I got on the bus to find a seat with vomit on it. I took the seat behind it. A few stops away a classmate got on the bus and started looking for a seat. When he moved to sit in the seat ahead of me, I said nothing to him. What is more I laughed at him, I pointed out to others that I knew about it and let him sit there. He was from a family worse off than my own. He was the object of my ridicule and everyone else that I pointed it out too. I spent the day feeling a little sick to my tummy because of what I did that morning. I could not look at my classmate or pass him in the corridor without great guilt. That day when I got home my mother sat me down. A niece had recounted the school bus story to my mom. She asked me if it was true. I felt lower than a slug. My mother asked the question that I dreaded most. “Can you imagine how your friend feels?” Truth was, that had bothered me all day. I had been on the dirty end of that stick before and I discovered there was no pleasure for me in being on the oppressive end of the stick. Mom’s form of discipline? – “Tomorrow, you will say you are sorry.” And I did. And I felt better after I did. There was a great freedom asking for forgiveness.
Despite what we hear in advertisements, the whole world does not revolve around our individual needs. Most time we know when we have fallen into sin. Can we have the courage to do what our baptismal covenant calls us to as repent of those sins? Do we trust that God loves us even when we fall short?
Thomas Merton puts it this way,
“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”
So let us seek to repent for those times that we have fallen short. Perhaps we need to ask another’s forgiveness. Perhaps we need to ask God’s forgiveness. Either way we bring ourselves into closer relationship with God when we do confess. We might do it as an act of general confession at Sunday morning church. We may seek out our priest and ask for the sacrament of reconciliation – (As an aside – this sacrament of the Anglican Church that is not emphasized enough. I have seen tremendous healing in this sacrament.) However we choose to turn away from behavior that has put an obstacle between ourselves and God, we enter into honest dialogue with God knowing that the unfailing mercy of God offers us forgiveness and frees from the bondage of guilt.