I'm Sorry !!

I didn't mean to.
I couldn't help it.
I can't stop.

Please help.

The Sacrament of Penance.
The Confiding Virtue, and The Confidence Trick.

"All can, none must, some ought"
So spake the old Anglican rubric on the Sacrament of Confession.
Confession comes and goes in favour with church styles. But nearly all branches of the church admit that there are times when it must and should be done. As with prayer itself, there's a difference here between empty repetition and developing good habits. There's a line between nitpicking, being totally absorbed in yourself, and blithely assuming that there's nothing very urgent to be dealt with at this present time. A bit of self awareness and self assessment can make a world of difference to your niceness to be near (grin) Call it spiritual hygiene if you like.

Of course. It is perfectly true that if we were totally in love with God then we probably wouldn't go too far wrong. I was very impressed by Thomas Merton's awareness of how much, and how many simple, good things in themselves were actual distractions from Himself. Many saintly folk have had a similar experience and been lead to reject even simple comforts and necessities because they distracted from God. St Thomas of Canterbury is rumoured to have rushed through his prayers and even shortened them, to keep his mind from wandering.
But alongside them there are those who, like Brother Lawrence, are given the gift of Seeing God in all things, in the simple comforts and delights of being human. Of food, trees and potatoes.  To them nothing is a distraction. So What is a sin and a distraction for each person will be different.

So - we've each got our own problems, and we deal with them in our own different ways. Confession is an important part of every tradition however, whether you are sharing with a good friend in the parlour, or visiting the Confessional once a week. Whether you begin, "You know that Your Lord loves you and died for your sins" or Father, it is six days since my last confession.." or even, "Love, I'm sorry"

It is a sacrament. An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. And it takes two to do this - at least - even if those two are you in the secrecy of your own room alone with your God.

Over the years, even when I was a child, I heard people sneer at others for the 'habit of confession'. Heard them say that others went to confession were forgiven and felt free to walk out and do it again. Heard the opposite. That people, knowing that it was impossible for them not to have sinned but unable to find out in which particle their error had occurred, made sins up. Heard arguments about whether saying the words in church on a sunday was sufficient, or whether church was the place for the church to confess her own arrogance and communal failings. Or whether in this case the Church was repenting for human beings, standing for people before God.

Well, it wasn't meant to be like that.
I tell myself a story. That the early followers of Jesus had a vision of a new society.
That when we admit a sin, an error, confide an overriding difficulty, we are looking for help. Help to grow. Help to be more loving and more centred. More aware of ourselves and less uncentred.

It ought to be possible, with the special graces of the Spirit to be able to go to the butcher and tell him that you've stolen his chops. And for him to help you overcome this stealing habit. Perhaps by having you work, as he does, for them - perhaps by a little gentle, teasing, putting them out of the way and joking with you about that.
People being people of course, 'the butcher' is far more likely to prosecute you and tell the world that you oughtn't to be let loose in a shop. These days, the butcher is probably a corporation anyway. Nowadays we're so scared to admit a weakness, that we are always looking round for someone else to take responsibility or pretending that there is no problem there at all. We don't realize that if we pretend there's no problem it not only will not go away, but it will grow. One rotten board will end up with there being no floor at all.

Neither is it possible to do anything about someone else's sins. They may well be easier to see than one's own. But until one is actually engaging in the struggle with the beam in one's own eye, one will never see the difficulty of removing the splinter in someone else's.

If it is someone else's fault, deal with it by forgiving them, with whatever struggle that might cause you, and with hoping that no one ever finds out the wrong that they have done, unless it will cause someone else actual harm. Then do the discrete thing, talk it through, with them. Follow the dictates of St James in the New Testament. But remember to halve the sin. If it isn't your fault why are you confessing it? If it is troubling you, ask yourself why ?

There are times when we all need someone to confide in.

The first step is to notice that something is wrong. To admit it. To see in what way it is your business. What you can do about it.

The more practical solution is to choose one person to talk with. Some wise, understanding person who is unlikely to say "My God! That's terrible ! How can you live with yourself?' - some person who may perhaps be able to listen to the whys the wherefores the confusions and help you sort them through.

Now - it is perfectly possible to close your eyes and just simply talk it through with Jesus. You have something burdening you, is assumed, and though he knows full well what it looks like, you probably don't.

But in many many ways it is easier to speak with a person with skin on. Even if they say nothing, one comes clearer in oneself simply by seeing the situation in the eyes of another. Excuses are more easily discerned, so are reasons.

We know, God knows, that we do the best we can with what we've got. With our understanding at the time. So our understanding may be expanded by this talk.

You know what you've done and you know that you are sorry.
How sorry ?

Well. If you're going this 'alone', ask yourself these questions.

What can I do to make amends ?

Sometimes it's simple enough. Give it back. Make it better. Apologize.
Sometimes that would hurt the person you've done harm to even more.
Make the amends anonymous.
Or pass them on.
An act of generosity to a stranger, to replace an act of meanness to a person well loved.
An act of praise to replace an act of denigration.
A kind word instead of a cruel lie.
A gentle word to replace a destroying tirade.
And because wrong things seem to be more vivid and powerful than right ones, make your amends lots of little ones.
and the occasional spectacular one.
You know the parable of the feast which was given to those who couldn't afford to throw a return party?
This is a good place to think about those who cannot possibly afford to repay you. A good place to be anonymous.

Of course, if you can, possibly, talk it through with the person you've hurt, that is best of all. Ask them what they want of you. But even if you can't, close your eyes, and visualize them. Tell them what you've done, and what they've done. Forgive them and ask them to forgive you. And sit with that as long as it feels unfinished. In real life it is possible that no such forgiveness would follow.
Forgive them? I hear you say ? But I hurt them.
Well dear one. If you think about it, you'll realize that somewhere inside we do secretly blame those whom we have hurt. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is because through them we see ourselves as less than perfect. As vulnerable. As cruel or haughty or unkind. Perhaps because they have more than us.. who knows ?

Jesus knows. And it may be well to ask him.

Your forgiveness doesn't depend on your making amends. But your understanding does. The amends has already been made. Done for. Washed away.
But your understanding hasn't yet grown into the fulness. We don't really fully understand the nature of the damage we've done till we try to put it right. How do we unmake a lie and it's effects? Trying to put the feathers back on a plucked chicken, the Buddha described it as. We have to be inventive to put it right.

And then too, nearly all sin is a lack of trust. I steal because I don't trust God or my neighbour to help or understand. Or because I do not trust myself to be able to earn it.. or because I simply want it, more than I care for someone else's need or working for it.  or whatever. I don't trust myself to do without it, to survive. Now that lack of trust may itself be justifiable. If I am regularly beaten, or punished unduly - I will avoid by lying as long as I can. This is a very different matter, and if in your consideration of this you find that you are in a state of fear, then please find someone real to talk with and some material help.

Sometimes penitence comes late. We may know quite well that a certain habit of mind, a certain piece of behaviour is wrong, and we may make amends even without particularly feeling anything about it. Penitence is sometimes a four o'clock in the morning job. Sometimes too it isn't grief for something that would find it's way into the rubric. Just a howling "How could I be so gross!" Why did I say it ? O dear lord, why do I think it, over and over again..
Sometimes it is not till the beauty of forgiveness itself washes over you that you understand the pain of the original misdemeanour. This is not the awful bondage of scrupulosity, but the extraordinary release from it. Once penitence has stuck we are well on the way to overcoming the last hurdle. The biggie and baddie.

Yes indeed. Not doing it again.
Now sometimes once is enough. Once we have seen the nature of the trouble, confided it to someone else, faced it in ourselves, discovered the release of being truly and heartily sorry and bawled our eyes out, we no longer have the slightest inclination to venture that way again. Would that it were always so. But I'm afraid that my experience is that I am reminded again and again of particular and habitual faults. I become weary and disconsolate and unmindful and worn out and depressed, because 'whoops' here we go again.

Your wise friend will give you advice.
And it may be that the advice will make sense to you. Maybe, to bring you to awareness, that every time you do it again you make a little mark on your arm with a biro. Or have a companion whisper, 'you're doing it again', or something of that kind.
And then do something good for every mark on your arm.

Or perhaps the advice will be to take your mind off this thing completely and put it somewhere else that is more healthy. Play sport, design a dinner - paint a picture - write a prayer.

Whatever. You will have engaged yourself in the battle to replace the sin with a virtue and life will be difficult, for if you are planting  - say - the virtue of patience - then expect patience to be tested. There really is no point in having a sunny peaceful disposition if everything in the garden is lovely. Well, there is, but it's not all that virtuous. There are, of course there are, times when the Lord simply stretches out his arm and says to the sin "Get out, you're not wanted". In which case you will never have to think of it again.  But there are equally times when it does return, or raises it's head in a different guise. - Looks like you may be in line for a Course in one of the Great Virtues, as your awareness increases and your self knowledge grows and the Lord grants you the grace of self discipline.

So. Your friend has told you to read a psalm, perhaps Psalm 51 and say the Lord's Prayer, and what good is that you ask yourself? What use is that penance ?

Read the psalm again. You are no longer in the context of your own sin, bringing it to mind and temptation again. You are reading the words of another soul who was like you, struggling with something. You are in solidarity with another poet, someone else who is grieving.
Read it again. You are in the context of God himself. In the presence of the wisest friend of all.

Say the Lord's Prayer. Live in it. You are alive and God is Your Father. In that context what power have these trials against us? While you are praying the Lord's prayer you are changing - inside and out. His kingdom, his will, his forgiveness..

And while you are meditating, contemplating, praying, you are changing. You have begun weeding the garden, now plant herbs where the weeds have been.
You may even discover that the sin itself was a merely misplaced virtue. That you've been pruned rather than punished, and that cuttings have been made.

And in the meantime, don't be afraid, or ashamed to face up to a repeated sin.
'O Lord, I've done it again!' is something any human, caring person with a bit of self knowledge will understand only too well.  Of course it may look to outsiders as if you are a raving hypocrite. Well, that isn't your problem. There's all the difference in the world between trying to look good without changing a thing, and engaging in a real struggle - not so as to earn perfection and heaven - those things are already achieved, but in order to fit in with, grow into and nurture the New Society, the New Kingdom. To be a bit better suited for a kingdom of heaven that is enjoyable to live in for both you and others.


Go in peace
The Lord has put away your sin.
Pray also for me
A sinner.




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