I have long believed the greatest gift God has ever given us—next to his son—is our life.
Yet, the ability to breathe and blink is not the full extent of such a gift. No, we have received God-given free will to live our lives however we please.
God loves us so much that he created us with the privilege of thinking, speaking, and doing whatever we want.
Such a prospect can perhaps introduce the feeling of great power. However, unlike God’s love for us, our freedom is not unconditional.
Certainly, each thought, word and action of ours carries consequences. These results have impact around us—both positive and negative. Therefore, God calls us to exercise our free will judiciously. He calls us to live out the virtue of prudence.
That said, while God created us in his image, we are not infallible and are thus prone to sin.
What Exactly Is Sin?
Simply put, a sin is an offense against God’s will. It can be a thought, word, deed, or omission that violates God’s teachings (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 1853).
Some people may think that only actions can be sins. However, condescending thoughts and prejudice are also sinful, since they are not welcoming or loving.
Similarly, using abusive language or tone with others does not seem to align at all with Jesus’ Golden Rule or the many pearls of wisdom offered in the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs:
“A soft answer turns away wrath,(Proverbs 15:1)
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,(Proverbs 16:4)
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
Additionally, actions such as bullying, murder, and theft contradict how God wishes for us to treat his children. These acts are not at all supporting Jesus’ words in John 13:35,
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Whether a bully tells a classmate to hand over his lunch money or someone harasses someone else in a cyberspace conversation at work; if it’s the killing of one unborn child or the genocide of an entire population; whether a girl takes a classmate’s pencil case without permission or a man robs a bank, these are all sins and require reconciliation with God and his Church.
Do or Do Not
As in all of the aforementioned examples, sin manifests itself in acts of commission, where we do something wrong. However, society also sins through acts of omission, where we can fail to do what is right.
For example, withholding information from a parent or the police when asked about the details of a crime may not technically be lying, but it is an obstruction of justice, a failure to tell the truth, and a false testimony.
As our faith teaches, bystanders who avoid helping victims are morally responsible to be a Good Samaritan. Beyond that, civil laws can also impose a social duty to rescue—an important point to remember in such a technology-driven world where a person may elect to record a beating or car accident on a cellphone camera and upload it to social media instead of assisting those in need.
Clearly, sin of any kind damages relationship with God, others, and ourselves. The question then becomes what do we do about it?
A Recipe for Help
While God judges us each day based on how we live, we must remember God’s unconditional love and forgiveness are always available when we err.
We can receive these gifts of healing and restoration in various forms, but the ordinary form of reconciliation with God and the Church is through the sacrament of confession.
When confessing our sins to God during this sacrament, it is essential to recognize and practice the three main components—regret, remorse, and repentance.
First, showing regret is necessary not to dump guilt on oneself but, rather, to take ownership of what we have done. Whatever our sin, we must first identify it and hold ourselves accountable for it in order to repair our brokenness. Such an experience is not always easy and can demand great courage and humility.
Next, having remorse for the harm we have caused is necessary when we are apologizing and seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt—whether it be God, others or ourselves. Remorse is critical in mending division and helping us move forward in harmony.
Lastly, in attempting to fully repent from our sins, we must make a conscientious effort to improve in our lives by making things right with those we have wronged. Confessing our sins to Jesus through a priest is one matter but we also need to acknowledge our faults with those around us whom we have affected.
Having a sincere heart in displaying these three ingredients following our sins can truly allow us to be fully brought back into union with our Lord and his children.
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”(Matthew 6:21)
Bridging the Gap
As St. Paul emphasizes, we are all one body in Christ and are joined together as family by his love. Our sins separate us from God and one another, thus we require reconciliation to facilitate reunion with him and our brothers and sisters.
Showing contrition through genuine prayer and action is good, but only confession with a priest can serve as effective penance when we’re looking to restore communion with God and his people.
Sin divides us from God and our community, but the sacrament of reconciliation liberates us and reintroduces us to our all-loving Lord, who wishes to steamroll our transgressions.
Confession also provides us with God’s beautiful gift of grace, offering renewal and healing of our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls.
In order to receive this, though, we must come to Christ completely open, having discerned our sins and their effect on our lives. Such an examination of conscience can steady us and center our focus on Jesus once again.
Through this process of reconciliation, we can then enjoy abundant peace and victory, knowing God has showered his mercy and forgiveness upon us and our sins have been wiped away.
Perhaps you have felt this before in your life, or maybe you have yet to fully encounter Jesus in this way. Regardless, you are invited and encouraged to explore the awesome power of contrition and confession as our loving God holds his arms wide open, awaiting reunion with you.
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Scrupulosity, Bad Confession Experiences, and Young People Leaving the Church (Ask Fr. Josh podcast)
About Matt Charbonneau
Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.