Scripture Reflection for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
I was talking recently with some non-practicing Catholics about our childhood experiences of confessing our sins during confession (what we still called it back in the 80’s). In our discussion, each one of us admitted to having made up sins to tell the priest because as young children, we had absolutely no idea what else to say. I can recall the angst I felt, waiting in chairs lined up against the wall outside the confessional in the small parish of St. Jude, which used to serve as the Legion. Three people ahead of me, oh my God, and what could they possibly be saying that is taking them so long? What’s…oh, they’re coming out of the confessional…they look worried.
At last, after several nerve-fraying minutes, it would be my turn.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession.” (probably a lie, which I would later have to confess)
“And what are your sins, child?”
Father Cormier. I could barely understand a word he said at the best of times, let alone behind this scary screen with the red velvety kneeler at the bottom.
“Well, I cheated on a test at school (I didn’t), swore seven times (I didn’t swear…at the age of seven, anyhow), and disobeyed my parents. Oh! And I tried to throw my brother off of a snowmobile (one that was moving…this one actually happened)”.
For this, I was given ten Hail Mary’s and one Our Father as penance. I soon learned that no matter what I told the priest inside the confessional, penance was always ten Hail Mary’s and one Our Father, and after all of the anxiety I went through, I remember thinking to myself…That’s it? I can get off this easy? Sweet.
At that time, I understood sin to be doing “something bad”…something I wasn’t supposed to do because it broke the rules. Sin was explained to me as a black spot on my soul that I would need to get washed off through the sacrament of confession or else I would probably end up in Purgatory for a few hundred thousand years, although I never understood and was always skeptical of the formula used to calculate this ominous prediction. How could anyone possibly know this? Ultimately I understood that Jesus was mad at me when I had black marks on my soul. Yup, Jesus was mad at me.
Consequently, for many years, sin was something that I had a hard time wrapping my head around. As the years passed, I began to doubt that Jesus, the Son of God, the omnipotent creator of an unfathomable universe, could ever really be angry with me for cheating on a test, or for any other of the black spots I had accumulated through my childhood sojourns. Over the years, as I continued to practice my faith, I began to understand sin as the things I do that interfere with my relationship with God. Those things that create a distance. God still loved me and was present at all times. It was my own behavior that steered me in other directions that always seemed far more interesting and always seemed like such great ideas at the time. With infinite patience and grace, God waited for me to look inward and reflect on how my behavior at times interfered with nurturing a healthy spirit, and an improved relationship with our creator.
I am certain that everyone who helped prepare me for the sacrament of confession had the best intentions, but in the end all of the Black-Spot Guilt was not particularly helpful to me, and I could not even begin to imagine what “Sin of the world” could possibly mean, even though I recited it off each Sunday at mass, with my mother eyeing me closely to ensure I was participating in all of the responses. “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us…”
I think today I have some better, less negative, less judgmental ideas about sin, and ultimately I suspect that perhaps the “sin of the world” might be the idea that we are somehow separate from God, and also from one another. While this manifests itself in many different ways, I am comforted by the fact that there is always, somewhere in the world, people actively working towards bridging that divide that we have created between God and God’s people, and that mercifully, God is waiting with grace to grant us peace.