When I first heard that some of the greatest saints went to weekly, or even daily, Confession during their earthly lives, I was truly amazed. I asked myself: what sins could such admired and holy people possibly have to confess to? But yes, it is a sorry fact that we, ‘children of Adam’, are more than capable of sinning many times a day – and even the holiest of saints too, though their sins would most likely be small compared to the majority of men. The book of Proverbs tell us: “the most righteous man sins seven times a day”! So if that is the “righteous man“, what about the rest of us? What about me? Should I multiply that number of times I sin daily by two? By ten? By more than ten? On a ‘bad’ day, I may have to admit I probably could…! And what about all my sins of omission (so called precisely because they are ‘omitted’, forgotten about) – the good I have failed to do? Wow! (blush)
Even when our frequent sins may not be of grave matter, they are still a sure sign of our many imperfections and limitations, repeatedly proving to us how far we are from achieving that holiness we strive for. We want to avoid sin; we wish to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, to carry our cross and be Christ-like in our thoughts, words and deeds, yet we constantly and continually fall short of our sincere and honest desires.
St Paul understood this only too well when he cried out: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:15-20)
But here comes another twist: am I being driven to discouragement or a bad attack of scruples by my constant failures, when I strive each day anew to live a holy and pure life avoiding sin, and fail miserably time and time again? An attack of scruples would indeed be yet another sin to add to the already long tally of personal sins!
St. Thérèse of Lisieux has a perfect answer to this dilemma: “I know, O my God, that you cast down the proud soul but give an eternity of glory to those who humble themselves. I want, then, to set myself in the lowest place, sharing your humiliation so as to «have an inheritance with you» (Jn 13,8) in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Yet, Lord, you know my weakness. Each morning I take up my resolution to practice humility and, by evening, I realise I have still committed many failings of pride. Seeing this, I am tempted to discouragement. However, as I well know, discouragement is also an act of pride! And so, O my God, what I want to do is to base all my hope on you alone. You can do all things, so be pleased to bring to birth in my soul the virtue I am looking for. And to obtain this grace from your infinite mercy, I will say repeatedly: «O Jesus, meek and humble of heart: make my heart gentle and humble as yours!»”
Lent is the ideal time of year the Church gives us to reinvigorate our sense of sin as we thoroughly examine the state of our souls. We do this by fasting and abstaining from meat (and/or other foods) on Friday, and by choosing the penances suited to our various situations. We deprive ourselves of something, or make extra sacrifices, so that by becoming “poorer” we leave more “room” for Our Blessed Lord to fill our hearts. We should try to set aside more time for prayer and Lectio Divina within our busy lives, though this might mean rising earlier, or watching less TV, etc. And if we backslide and fail in our good intentions now and then – or more often! – let us not get discouraged, but instead turn this failure into a lesson in humility. (Biltrix has a good post on this, http://biltrix.com/2014/03/14/trouble-stumbling-with-your-lenten-resolution-take-courage/ )
The timeless wisdom of Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen offers some specially appropriate advice on discouragement: “When you fail to measure up to your Christian privilege, be not discouraged, for discouragement is a form of pride. The reason you are sad is because you looked to yourself, and not to God; to your failing, not to His love. You will shake off your faults more readily when you love God, than when you criticise yourself. You have always the right to love Him in your heart, even though you do not love Him in your acts. Do not fear God, for perfect love casts out fear. God is biased in your favour; God is more lenient than you, because He is perfectly good and, therefore, loves you more. Be bold enough then to know that God is on your side, even when you forget to be on His.”
So, in making good use of all the ‘tools’ Holy Mother Church puts at our disposal to help us on our journey, especially the Sacrament of Confession, and with the firm resolution to avoid sin and to love and trust God more, let us leave judgement of our imperfect lives to the One Judge Who sees our willing spirit, and Who will protect and guide us along the rough roads of our pilgrimage on Earth. “Oh Jesus, I trust in You”.
Finally, may I offer this beautiful rendering of “Peccantem me quotidie” by Cristobal de Morales:
“Sinning every day, and not repenting, the fear of death troubles me.
For in Hell there is no redemption. Have mercy upon me, O God, and save me.”