How often do you think about sin? Not particular sins, but the reality of our sinful nature and the effect that has on our life. The answer is probably not too often. In the busyness of life, it’s not likely to cross your mind on a regular basis. But our priests have the unique opportunity, in Confession, to be confronted with people’s sins and offer mercy and forgiveness through Christ.
Because they are exposed to the sins of others on a regular basis, our priests have valuable insight to offer when it comes to the reality of sin and grace. Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ offered a reflection on something that struck him while hearing confessions this month. He said:
“Some people have this impression – I don’t know where it comes from – that it must be a real chore to hear confessions. That it must be really painful and burdensome for a priest to hear confessions.
But, in fact, it’s not a burden. At least not from my perspective, because it is such a momentous event – a moment in our lives when we experience God’s mercy. And I get the real privilege of seeing Confession from the other side of the screen.
Most likely you’ve experienced Confession many times as a penitent. As have I. I’m not embarrassed to say that I have had recourse to the sacrament of Confession innumerable times. I’m only embarrassed that I’m a poor sinner in the eyes of God, but I’m very grateful for His mercy. And because of that, I will not minimize how much I need His mercy.
And a particular element really struck me last night as I was hearing confession after confession after confession. Let’s talk for a moment about what happens when we sin. When we sin, we hurt ourselves. Every time we sin, we subvert our actual happiness by choosing something less than what God wants for us, and less than what will actually make us joyful and happy.
And one of the first effects of sin that we can discern in our lives is that we ourselves are hurt. I am hurt by my own sin. Then, of course, other people are hurt by my sin as well. Even the most private sins affect the Body of Christ. Because if I am not living up to what God desires of me, I’m going to be a poorer instrument to others. So I’m hurting people, even if nobody else knows about that private moment of impatience, anger, or whatever it might be. It’s still hurting the Body of Christ.
But also, and probably most importantly, is that our relationship with the Lord is damaged. Not that He ever abandons you. Not that He will ever run away when we sin against Him. Even when we sin very gravely, the Lord will never abandon you. But we harm, we hurt, we offend that love which God wants to pour down upon us. That’s why we need the sacrament of Confession to help us heal in that area.
But here is another thing I was thinking last night, about what happens when it comes to sin in our life. Our perspective is also hurt. Our perspective on reality is changed. That is to say, I start seeing things differently. So when I sin, and my conscience is damaged, the world looks a little bit different.
One really concrete example that I can see in the lives of so many people that struggle with impurity is that when they look on another person as an object for their pleasure, rather than as a human being, all of a sudden that hurts my ability to see other people as creatures of God. So this is just one particular sin where we notice how it affects my objective perspective on the world.
When I sin, all of a sudden the world is going to look different. Because my conscience has been affected, my perspective has been diminished, and my ability to recognize God’s love and His will has been harmed.
And one of the beautiful things about Confession is that it gives us back that perspective. Not always perfectly, because sometimes it takes a while. If we sin very gravely, sometimes it will take penance, working through these sins, it will take us some work to root out the effects of these sins in our life.
But eventually we start to regain a healthy perspective on the world. We start to see people as people. And we start to see our actions in the context of God’s light – and we see more clearly when they’re not in accord with His will.
All this to say, maybe you’re looking at your life and thinking you don’t have much sin. You think you haven’t been doing much because you haven’t had to go to Confession in a long time. You haven’t felt the desire to go to Confession, maybe for years, and so you think you must be doing fine.
Well, one of the problems is that you may be losing perspective on what is OK and what’s not. Because if the only standard I’m holding up to in my life is my own life, my own sinfulness, my own brokenness, then my standards are going to be lower. Every time I sin, my standards are going to lower.
And guess what? It’s Confession that shines that light more clearly in our lives, to recognize and see God’s grace there. And it helps us to have a better perspective on life. I love that, and that’s why it is a privilege to hear Confessions. Because I can see that light bulb go on in people’s hearts, in their eyes, in their minds as they are in Confession and they realize that if they knew God loved them they would have been there years ago.
If they had known that it wouldn’t be as painful as they anticipated – and, in fact, they have this amazing experience of God’s mercy – they would have come back more quickly. Now they see the little imperfections of their life that they wouldn’t have seen without God’s grace.
That’s the beauty of Confession. Maybe you can think about that, and maybe you’d like a little bit more of that in your life. Maybe you would like to see more clearly whether your life is in order or not.
A little tip from me: go to Confession. It’s amazing. And it’s going to change your life.”
Listen to the full reflection below:
St. Joseph’s Workshop with Fr. Matthew Spencer airs weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.