I have spent quite a lot of time, since last Friday, reflecting on our class on confession and baptism. For many of us these are big issues. In the next few weeks there will be several baptisms and first confessions.
For me the thoughts that have been going round my head are to do with dealing with sin. In both the sacraments of baptism and confession we enter a place where God’s forgiveness is offered to us.
During the presentations one thing struck me — sin was described as not just wrong actions, thoughts and the good we fail to do but also our desires. Desires go to a deep level within us. They can be things that drive or motivate us.
We were also given an article by Fr Christopher Jameson, in which he looks at the traditional seven deadly sins. He investigates an attitude to sin, which often consists of seeing it as that which hurts others. Fr Jameson suggests that the seven deadly sins are root causes of the actions that hurt others. Harmful actions are the symptoms of something deeper. To these he introduces an eighth from John Cassian, that of spiritual apathy, a lack of desire for the spiritual life.
As I was listening to the presentation and afterwards, when reading the article, I thought of some of St Paul’s teaching on sin. In Romans he talks about wrestling with sin: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep doing.” (Rom 7:19) In several letters he encourages the people to live in the freedom of the Spirit and not in accordance with sinful nature.
So we deal with the everyday instances of sins and these individual events are a symptom of our sinful nature, which encompasses our desires and motivations.
Our particular discussion group talked about this in relation to confession. There is a need to be aware of both root sins and the events they cause. I can bring individual instances and never look at the underlying problem. A good confessor will be able to spot patterns over time and maybe challenge me as to the root cause but this would take time and be dependent on me seeing the same priest each time. However if I bring the fact that I have been struggling with anger this maybe lets me off looking at the unpleasant fact of how I treat others when I am angry.
So, what do I bring to confession? I think that I have started to see how bringing specifics, however difficult it maybe, is important in order to acknowledge not just my sin but also the consequences that my sin causes others and myself. I have also to look deeper at what is causing me to behave and think in the ways I do — the patterns of behaviour and desires that are the root sins, the cause of my sinful actions. If not then I am in danger of cleaning the outside of the cup while leaving the inside untouched!
I can’t say that I am particularly looking forward to either confession, or the preparation that will involve me shining a light on things about myself that I would rather keep hidden. However I am beginning to see that in bringing my sin to confession I can be in a position to receive God’s forgiveness. Experiencing forgiveness is one way in which I can deepen my awareness of God’s love. This process is also one, which has the potential for transformation. When St Paul talks about living in the Spirit sometimes he describes it as imitating Christ. Maybe, if I co-operate with God by looking honestly at my sinfulness in the context of his forgiveness and love then God can start to change me into an imitation of His Son.