I have a confession to make. Actually, I already made it. On December 8th, the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I was absolved of a whole lot of sins for the first time in a long time. A really, really long time.
It wasn’t laziness or a fear of the confessional that kept me away. I struggled with whether or not I should go for as long as I was away from the sacrament. Each Sunday I remained on my knees in the back of the church while everyone around me went up to Communion. Lent would come and go, and I knew that I hadn’t fulfilled the obligation to be reconciled at least once a year.
It certainly wasn’t because I thought I was sinless. I could probably use another couple doses of self-awareness, but I know full well how many times I take the counsel of the devil on my shoulder instead of the angel.
No, my issue was that I was well aware that what I was doing was wrong, but I wasn’t sorry for it. What’s more, I knew I wasn’t going to stop. How could I claim to be ready to turn back to God and beg for His forgiveness if I had no intention of stopping what I was doing?
I have already admitted here to having a bit of Irish Alzheimers. That is, I can forget everything except a grudge. I have gotten better, but there are still those with whom I am exceedingly angry, and those I can’t bring myself to forgive, despite what our Lord taught us about forgiveness. I am not proud of it, but it’s the truth.
When I finally did go to confession, I drove 40 minutes to a priest whose opinion I respect a great deal. I picked him because I knew he wouldn’t go easy on me, and he didn’t, but he was still more merciful than I would have been. At the end he not only granted me absolution, but also encouraged me to return to the Eucharist. I did, that evening, and haven’t missed a Sunday since.
Still, the same nagging concern that kept me away for so long has stayed with me. I’m committing the same sins as I was before, and for some of them there is still no remorse. I felt better, however, after reading Pope Francis’ new book, The Name of God is Mercy. In it, his interviewer recounts a story from the 1949 novel To Every Man a Penny in which a French priest hears the confession of a German soldier who is about to be executed.
The soldier confesses that he has had many amorous encounters with women, but then adds, “How can I repent? It was something that I enjoyed, and if I had the chance I would do it again, even now.” While I am not about to face a firing squad, that sentiment sounds awfully familiar.
The good French priest is then inspired to ask, “But are you sorry that you are not sorry?” The German soldier says that he is, and this is what allows the priest to grant him absolution. This, again, strikes a cord. I wish that I felt regret for these sins, but I don’t. I am, in the parlance of our times, #sorrynotsorry.
Pope Francis says in response to the story that “the very fact that someone goes to the confessional indicates an initiation of repentance, even if it is not conscious. Without that initial impulse, the person would not be there. His being there is testimony to the desire for change. Words are important, but the gesture is explicit.” I can only hope that he is right.
Reading that book was part of my effort to celebrate the Jubilee, and I am trying to make this the Best Lent Ever by watching a short video reflection each day by Matthew Kelley. The other day, in a video I thought was going to be about miraculous healings, people surviving plane crashes in the mountains, and other inexplicable events, he instead talked about the miracle of God’s forgiveness:
God forgives us. He forgives us even though in many cases He knows we will do it again. It is hard enough to forgive someone for doing something, but if you knew they were going to do it again, would you be able to forgive? That’s the miracle of God’s love every single day in our lives.
I still am not sorry for some of my sins, but at the very least I am sorry I’m not sorry. It’s a start.