“I know my transgressions; my sin is ever before me.” – Psalm 51:3
One Columbus Day weekend, the prayer of confession lumped us all in with the Conquistadors: “Oh God,” we declared in unison, “we have enslaved your people and raped your land.” Another time we had to say sorry for hating our bodies. I don’t treat my body as well as it deserves, but I can’t honestly say I hate it. Some confessions stick in the throat.
But I love confession anyway. I don’t even mind being lumped in with Conquistadors every now and then. I know my pedestrian sins are not the moral equivalent of mass murder. But I also know that, as someone once put it, over the years I’ve collected a lot of sewage in my heart.
Faced with huge moral choices, like whether to hide Jews from the SS, I hope I’d hide them. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned them all in. I get Mother Teresa’s reply to someone who declared her a living saint: “There’s a Nazi sleeping in my soul.”
I think of my sinfulness as a chronic condition—it’s not a great thing to have, it flares up and causes trouble, but with treatment it’s survivable. I also think that denying my human condition sets me up for worse things than run-of-the-mill sinning.
Some people find confession depressing. They want to hear that they’re good, and getting better all the time. They want church to further their self-improvement projects. I’m not so keen on that. Every time becoming a better person has been my goal, pride has always been too happy to help me achieve it. That’s just the way it is with us sinners.
Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner.
Mary Luti is Interim Senior Pastor, Wellesley Village Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts.