Why do we sin? What causes us to turn away from an all loving, all merciful God?
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
– Psalm 51: 1-2
While waiting what felt like a length that would be suitable for a penance, I began to think about why we sin. One of the first thoughts I had was that of selfishness. Most (if not all) of the sins we commit originate when we turn our backs on sacrificial love and focus our efforts for happiness inward. Being selfish exposes itself in a variety of ways within our lives. When we are selfish, we do not trust primarily because in our self-seeking tendencies we begin to rely on ourselves for things like grace, justification and other divine gifts that we cannot give. A lack of trust can breed impatience, yet another way that selfishness appears. Becoming impatient is often the result of elevating our wants or needs to an impractical level. I choose the word impractical because Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are far above our ways and by definition, more complete and more practical. In our selfish, inward-oriented behavior we cry out for mercy. This is where love begins again for us. This is when we once again, turn our efforts towards another.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
– Psalm 51:3-5
The priest I met with for confession reminded me that in order to continually pursue sanctifying grace; we must be vigilant to keep our sins before us. Be mindful of our shortcomings and all of the ways in which he pierce the hands of God. When we are given absolution and a penance to fulfill, may we understand that the point of it all is to put to death our desires. The beauty of reconciliation is not only in the forgiveness but in the tools we are given to avoid the near occasion of sin. No matter how difficult, unusual, or even mundane our penitential assignment may be, it us just and blameless in its nature.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
– Psalm 51:10-12
When we leave the confessional, we are reminded of the goal for which this Sacrament is intended. As a Sacrament that heals us and causes a conversion within us, it is in fact, restoring a new and right spirit within us. Reconciliation is the key to restoring our relationship with God, the relationship that we broke in our selfishness. Our approach towards penance and the spiritual battle we are fighting is a just measure of our love for Christ. We will fall short, we will fail but as long as we return and keep fighting, the joy of salvation is ours.