Confession Reminds Us Of God’s Greatness
Published: October 30, 2003
The depths of the human heart can be a terrifying place. We usually prefer to rest on the surface, basking in a shallow self-confidence like a family enjoying a picnic with their backs consciously turned to the black thunderclouds on the horizon or a couple spending a day in the country during a pause in a catastrophic war. We want to maintain the illusion that we are in charge of ourselves, that we never slip into doing something that is less than right. But reality is always creeping in on us, and we find ourselves confronted by our failures; the excuses that justify our actions must be carefully maintained.
The sacrament of penance places us face to face with those parts of ourselves that we would just as soon ignore. But it is not an invitation to despair at our weakness, but to joy in God’s goodness. Sin is a horrid thing. It is worse than any cancer, any disease, any natural disaster. Sin corrupts the fabric of our souls, turning what God intended as a glowing testament to his goodness into a filthy leaving of our pride.
When we look at the offensive corruption left by even venial sin, we discover something startling—God is here with us. God in his purity and goodness looks upon the damage we have inflicted upon our souls, upon the insult and injury we have given to him—with love. Indeed, he has always been here. He has always known and felt the ugly truth of our actions and is longing to take away the guilt of our sin, longing to patch up what we have broken. Underneath the skin of our false façades, we discover not our own inadequacy, not our own weakness, but God’s steady hand supporting us.
Confession gives us the opportunity to rest in that hand, knowing that we are not capable of living the way that we ought, that we can not find the foundations of meaning in ourselves, but that God is capable of giving us the strength to live rightly, and that we have meaning and purpose not because we are great, but because he is great.
When we step into the confessional, we set aside the makeup and costumes with which we customarily disguise our souls—even from ourselves. We set forth the simple truth about ourselves: that we are sinners. But there is more beauty in that honesty than in all our finely wrought disguises. There is a goodness in the truth and a great goodness in admitting it.
When all our craftiness is set aside, we find ourselves standing simply before God—as we are, and as he is. Like an antique cabinet from which all of the layers of paint and varnish have been removed, we place ourselves in the hands of God, and he is free to repair whatever is broken and to sand out the scratches that obscure the beauty he created in our hearts.