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February 26, 2007

I Confess

Last week's Washington Post had an article on a new media campaign by the Archdiocese of Washington to bring Catholics back to confession. Throughout Lent, churches in the archdiocese will be open for confession for an hour and a half every Wednesday night. Brochures and wallet-sized cards, ads on public transportation and radio all remind the faithful that "The Light is Always On" and encourage them to return to the confessional.

Priests and sociologists of Catholicism have theorized about the drop for years. Is it because of a culture that tells us we aren't responsible for what we do wrong? Or could it be something less dark: that the traditional Saturday confession time has simply been gobbled up by youth soccer leagues and errand-mania? Or maybe something more dark: that we don't even know what sin is anymore?

Cornelius Plantinga, in his must-read book Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin defines sin this way:

Sin is not only the breaking of law but also the breaking of covenant with one's savior. Sin is the smearing of a relationship, the grieving of one's divine parent and benefactor, a betrayal of the partner to whom one is joined by a holy band . . . All sin has first and finally a Godward force. Let us say that a sin is any act -- any thought, desire, emotion, word or deed -- or its particular absence, that displeases God and deserves blame. Let us add that the disposition to commit sins also displeases God and deserves blame, and let us therefore use the word sin to refer to such instances of both act and disposition. Sin is a culpable and personal affront to a personal God . . . God hates sin not just because it violates his law, but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be.

Plantinga goes on to describe sin and spiritual health in terms of corruption and spiritual hygiene. Sin corrupts relationships between man and God, man and man, and man and nature. It despoils, or wrecks, the integrity or wholeness of shalom. Spiritual hygiene, on the other hand, fosters a wholeness and a spiritual maturity, and re-centers our focus on God and His purposes and plans, on loving Him and our neighbor and seeking first His kingdom.

My grandfather was a farmer. After a long day spent baling hay, mucking out the barn, discing and re-seeding a field, he'd head to the bathroom, strip off his grimy overalls and mud-encrusted boots, reach for the Lava soap and a scrub brush, and buff the layers of filth from out of his pores, under his nails, off his skin. Cleansed and refreshed, he was ready to enjoy an evening with family and friends, re-engaged in life and community before going to bed at night, waking the next day and starting the whole process over yet again.

I think of confession as our spiritual bar of Lava. When sin's sludge corrupts, defiles, and breaks shalom, we must place ourselves before God, and allow the cleansing power of confession, repentance and forgiveness to disinfect our minds, buff our souls, and restore shalom.

(H/T Some Have Hats)

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