Bishop Morneau's Column|
"Reflection on the Readings"
|Bishop Robert Morneau
Confession of sin is sound psychology
The penitential rite is a moment of honesty filled with hope and promise
February 3-4, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Bishop Robert Morneau
Questions for reflection:
1. What sin do you constantly present to the Lord for
2. How have you experienced the mercy of God?
3. Is the sacrament of reconciliation a regular part of your
It is no accident that we begin Mass with the penitential rite, a
time in which we ask for God's mercy and forgiveness. In our more
honest moments we are keenly aware of the dark, sinful side of
our personal life and of our society. Not only is confession of
sin good theology, it is also sound psychology (though we should
note that confession may be good for the soul, but it is very bad
for one's reputation!).
Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Peter all knew this. The prophet Isaiah,
encountering the glory of the Lord, cries out: "Woe is me, I am
doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of
unclean lips ..." Is this high drama, an exaggerated response to
the fearful presence of God or is it the raw truth? We know the
story: The angel came, purification happened, and the prophet
offers himself to be sent.
A contemporary writer, Jim Wallis, claims that a prophet has a
double task: "to name the idols and to call the people back to
the Lord," Isaiah did that first with himself and then for the
people. In the penitential rite we try to name our idols - power,
prestige, possession - and then, through grace, turn back to the
Lord through conversion of mind and heart.
St. Paul made his confession: "For I am the least of the
apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted
the Church of God." Nor is this an attempt at false humility but
the primal honesty of a disciple who took ownership for his sins.
Persecution leaves many scars not only on the victims, but also
on generations to come. Paul had to deal with this thorn in his
soul as we all do because of our offenses. Paul would never think
of skipping his penitential rite in the name of an "I'm OK,
you're OK" psychology.
Then there is Peter. Amazed at the power of Jesus, this fisherman
falls to his knees and confesses: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am
a sinful man." Later we will see Peter's sin of betrayal; here we
are not sure what his specific sin is. What we are told is that
this new disciple was deeply aware of the darkness in his soul.
There is a danger in focusing in on personal and collective
sinfulness. That is why the Church constantly draws our attention
to God's mercy. Jesus says to Peter (and Paul and us): "Do not be
afraid." Like Isaiah, Paul and Peter are challenged to get off
themselves and volunteer to be sent, sharing the good news of
God's extravagant love and unlimited mercy.
The penitential rite is a moment of honesty. It acknowledges that
all is not well, that we all need healing and reconciliation,
that God longs for us to lay before him our guilt and sorrow that
we might be free. This rite is filled with hope and promise.
The great theologian Romano Guardini says it well: "In Christ,
something of that other world manifests itself in the world in
which we are. God, who became man, rises amongst us and says to
each one of us, to me also: 'I wish to redeem you from your
condition of abandonment. I wish to be your salvation.' To hear
these words, to believe in the possibility of this promise and to
trust in it despite everything inside us and around us which
opposes it - this is Christian hope."
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)