“A humbled contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.” Ps 50
We frequently hear about the value of positive self-esteem and confessing our worth today, but how often do we hear about the value of confessing our faults? Even the word ‘sin’ is hardly ever mentioned outside of Christian circles. And amongst Catholics in this country, there has been a radical decline in the use of the Sacrament of Penance. Of course the two things are related. The less aware we are of our ‘sickness’ (i.e sin) the less likely we are to call a doctor (i.e. sacrament of penance).
The Ninevites responded to the preaching of Jonah and repented, and the Lord forgave them. Many of the Jews of Jesus’ time thought that they were good by virtue of being children of Abraham, and did not need to repent. Jesus told them that they would be judged by the Ninevites, for He was greater than Jonah, yet they did not repent. Christ continually exhorted people to “repent and believe.”
In response to sin there can be two extremes: over-scrupulous and un-scrupulous. If previous eras were characterised by over-scruples, our present era is characterised by insensitivity to sin.
God has made us good in our being, but we are not entirely good in our lives, choices and actions. Made in the image of God, we have however marred that image due to original sin. We are ontologically* good, but not morally good. Usually we get things muddled, for we think we are ontologically worse than we actually are, and we think we are morally better than we actually are! The problem is that we measure ourselves against the standards of the world rather than the standards of our Lord!
Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.” (CCC 1451) Let us pray this Lent that we may be given a contrite heart that we may be astounded by the knowledge that we are made in the image of God (ontologically good), but also be grieved to the heart that we have marred that image by our sin, though also filled with joy that the Father heals us through His Son in His priests.
Note: * ontology is the study of being, so to be ontologically good means we are good in our very being or existence (God made us good). This can be in contrast to our moral state, that is, the choices we have made. Though created good in our being, we have the freedom to choose the good or the evil. So human beings are always ontologically good no matter what moral choices they make. By confession we acknowledge the incompatibility of our ontological goodness and our sinful choices.