“Father forgive me for I have sinned. These are my sins…”
In high school, we would gather together with other students for a mass at the huge Catholic church down the road. After the service, we would line up and patiently wait our turn to tell our sins to the priest.
Although going to mass got us out of going to class, I never liked the sacrament of penance for three main reasons:
1. Having no sins
I remember being very nervous about it. I turned to my best friend and asked her what she planned to say.
I could never think of any sins so I made some simple ones up. I swore, I didn’t do my homework, I lied to my mom.
Well, I suppose it wasn’t too hard to come up with sins. I wasn’t really the model Catholic girl in high school. I just didn’t really want to share my real sins with the guy on the other side of the wall.
I felt like the stereotypical mobster who would kill someone on Saturday night, then go to church on Sunday and be absolved of his sin. Only to do it again the following week.
I didn’t really feel like I was sorry for my sins. Didn’t feel like I was contrite and planned to not do it again.
As a matter of fact, I knew I had planned to swear, not do my homework, and lie to my mom again that very weekend.
I never liked that the priest would give me something to do like pray 3 Hail Mary’s and 4 Our Fathers.
It just didn’t make sense to me to recite a prayer repeatedly as a way to be free from my wrongdoings. It felt like a real waste of time.
But as an adult…
These same three reasons I didn’t like to go to penance are now the same three reasons I think asking God for forgiveness is so important.
What I realize now that this sacrament offered me was a good foundation.
1. I am a Sinner
It gave me the foundation to recognize that I sin and I need to ask for forgiveness.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, NIV)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8, NIV)
There are things that I say, things that I do, and things that I think that are wrong.
And it’s not just the “big” things like murder. Although Jesus made it clear that you don’t have to physically kill someone to have sinned.
“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” (1 John 3:15, NIV)
2. Hypocrisy is why we need to confess
Many people don’t like to go to church because it’s full of hypocrites.
I actually used to feel the same way. But then I was reminded that it’s because we are hypocrites that we NEED church.
It’s not the “good” people who go to church. It’s those of us who are sinners who need God.
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, NIV)
3. Penance is important
Although I still don’t think that reciting rote prayers is the way to do this, I do believe that there has to be an outward expression of repentance.
Ideally, if I lie and ask for God’s forgiveness, I do so with the plan of not lying again.
Looking back, this may be the actual part of the Sacrament that I hated the most. I had to repent. Not only be sorry for my sins but also do a complete 180 and not do it again.
What the Sacrament has taught me:
- I am a sinner and in need of God’s forgiveness
- I need God’s forgiveness daily (sometimes hourly)
- Penance is not just sorrow or regret but a real desire not to sin again
I am grateful for being raised in the Catholic church.
Although I have since left Catholicism, I do feel that it has given me an incredible foundation of faith.
( First featured on Medium platform February 8, 2020)