Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Habit of Awareness II: Devotional Confession

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit.

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Forgiveness of sins is something that we tend to think of as a watershed event, the decisive turning away from a life of sin to a new life in Christ. It's like the happily ever after of a fairy tale. But happily ever after begins now, and Christian life means growing in the path which Jesus established with His life, death, and resurrection. Baptism marks the decisive entry into the life of Christ.

From what I understand, the practice of confession arose as a decisive return to the faith after denying Christ to avoid martyrdom. So, confession was originally a decisive re-dedication to Christ. Over time, however, confession became a way of living the sacrifice of happily ever after in daily life, a way to persistently return to the priority of grace given by Christ so as to persistently announce this grace to the world.

Purpose of Devotional Confession
"This confession has less the intention of releasing the sinner from the communion of unpardoned sinners than of making him better able to live among these sinners and to participate in their lives. Anyone who wanted to make a devotional confession only to be absolved for himself in order to feel more pure would already be a Pharisee, one who cannot stand to see himself burdened with sins and errors or — especially — to be considered a sinner like others. Such a person repeatedly calls attention to the special nature of his own path and creates distance between himself and sinners. The Christian devotional confession must include the desire to participate in a more intimate fashion in the lot of sinners, even to allow the grace of absolution to come to those who either do not know confession or do not practice it and likewise to obtain as much grace as possible for others by means of frequent, even daily, communion. One's ego must be so objectified that it no longer offers a hindrance to the grace flowing through it" (Confession, Adrienne von Speyr, 128-129).

Have you ever tried to confess your sins as often as every two weeks? It's a challenge, and the challenge lies precisely in the problem which Balthasar described in the first post of this series: how to develop a habit of awareness.

Problem of Devotional Confession
"The frequency of confession almost of necessity brings with it a psychological dulling, whereas the nature of confession ought to effect just the opposite, namely, a deepening of one's insight into sin, a deepening which is necessary in order to maintain the vitality and freshness of the act of confession time after time. The absolute honesty demanded disappears most easily from the devotional confession; it should not be merely an 'exercise of penance,' but rather a humiliation experienced in a fresh and more profound way each time. To avoid slipping into a distorted condition, one needs the proper preparation in which one convinces oneself of the seriousness of one's own situation. A person cannot confess if from the very beginning he sees a chasm between himself and sin. He must be completely and truly convinced that he belongs to the realm of sin." (Confession, Adrienne von Speyr, 128-129).
So often I think of habit as a growth in strength and power. Because I have accomplished a level of productivity, I can be that productive again. Because I have faced a certain situation many times, I can face it again and do even better. Instead, confession confronts me with my own impotence, my own lack of power to accomplish the good, or even to know what the best course of action is in a situation. Even more, confession is a reminder that my incapacity is a sign — a reminder — that I am created in order to depend upon God. To be Christian is to be aware of my nothingness in myself and increasingly aware of my everythingness in Christ.To live this drama of a sinner constantly being saved and given life means accepting Christ's mission of announcing the nearness of God, the good news, forgiveness for debtors, to everybody in every circumstance of life. It is an impossible demand, made real by the superabundant Spirit of Christ, a grace that is never impersonal.
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