When we stand in line waiting to enter the confessional, it’s natural to sometimes feel a little fear, a little anxiousness, a little nervousness. After all, we’re standing in line to speak our sins aloud!
Sometimes though, we walk out of the confessional and we might still feel guilty, or ashamed of what we’ve done . . . how can this be? We’ve just received the supernatural grace of forgiveness and reconciliation from Almighty God, shouldn’t we feel better?
Sometimes you will, maybe most of the time, and that’s great! But sometimes, let’s just admit it, we don’t feel all warm and fuzzy afterwards. Sometimes we still feel guilty about what we’ve done.
How can we move past this? How can we come to understand that we’ve truly been forgiven and that we don’t need to be consumed by guilt from our past? Well there’s no perfect answer, but here’s two steps to help you on your way.
Step 1: Admitting our Weakness
As the great Han Solo once said: “Don’t get cocky!” Now, granted, he was telling Luke Skywalker not to get too proud of himself after gunning down a few Imperial Tai Fighters, but the message applies nonetheless. We can’t get too wrapped up in our own successes and our own gifts that we forget just how many times we have failed, and that all good things come from God.
Too many times we’ve been fed the lie that happiness and success is all about “self-esteem,” and that if we could just “believe in ourselves” that everything would be okay and that we would be able to do anything. This is not the Christian message!
Living the Christian life is never about boasting in our own achievements, or about lifting ourselves up above others. No. The Christian life is concerned with admitting our own weakness so that we can always remember where the power truly lies: with God.
This, however, is a very hard thing to do! It is a very difficult thing to be comfortable admitting that we are weak, that we really don’t have things in control, and that we must be entirely dependent on God.
But I would argue that it is that very thing that contains the great beauty of the faith, for in our weakness God is seen so much more clearly. We have the example of St. Paul to remind us of this. Paul was burdened by a weakness, a “thorn in the flesh” he calls it, that he begged God to take away from him, but God replied: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul goes on to say: “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10).
Step 2: Becoming Aware of God’s Love
After we admit our own weakness, we must strive to understand the great love that God has for us.
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Did you catch that? Christ laid down His life for us not because we were perfect, or could be made perfect, but while we were sinners. The love of God for you and me is so great that He sent His Son to die on the cross so that we would be able to receive forgiveness for our sins, and so that we would be able to share eternity in His presence.
When sin makes us feel ashamed or unworthy of the love of God, just remember that God has known everything for all eternity. God knew exactly what sins you would commit before He even created the world – but He created you anyway.
He knew that there would be times in your life where you would say no to Him – but He sent His Son for you anyway.
St. Paul says this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). When we sin, we don’t need to do anything more than run back to God and cry out, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” and He will welcome us back with open arms in the very same way that the loving father forgave the prodigal son who returned home.
More Joy in Heaven
At the Easter Vigil the Church proclaims: “O happy fault . . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” In the most solemn Mass of the whole year, the Catholic Church boldly proclaims that Adam’s sin should be seen as a “happy fault!” That is incredible!
And yet, it was that very sin that led to the coming of Jesus Christ. If we can have such a positive view of that most grievous of sins, then shouldn’t we have a similar view of our own sins? Not that we should rejoice in our sin, but we should always rejoice in what we can receive after our sin: forgiveness and redemption.
I was listening to Catholic radio the other day and heard a priest discussing this very topic. He said: “When we get to heaven, we are going to boast in our sins. Not in our sins as sins, as evil actions, but we will boast in them because of just how much we have been forgiven. We will speak to others in heaven and say, ‘Here is what the Lord forgave me, now tell me what He forgave you.’”
I think that is a wonderful image of just how great the love and mercy of God truly is. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says: “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
The more that we have to be forgiven of, the more that we have to rejoice over when we realize that God has forgiven us because He has loved us . . . and because He continues to love us right now . . . and because He will continue to love us for all eternity.