Dear Trinity Community,
As I write today, I am preparing to accompany five of our Confirmation class students on retreat. Since I decided to go with them on this youth retreat, I was asked by the retreat organizers to prepare to give a talk about forgiveness and reconciliation while there. I still have not prepared that talk, but I have been thinking an awful lot about it this past week.
As a teenager, I had no interest in the church’s approach to sin and forgiveness; these words repelled me. I “knew” myself to be good and I was suspect of anyone who would try to “shame” me into thinking otherwise by using these humiliating words about my unworthiness in God’s eyes. Maybe you too were (or are) offended by the language of sin. We want to distance ourselves from it, don’t we?
And yet, with the years, I have learned that pretending to be free of the burden of my own sins is not unlike pretending gravity doesn’t exist. I would love to lift my feet off this earth and soar with the pure goodness of the angels, but my own human fallibility seem to keep these feet planted firmly on the ground.
I know I am capable of harming others, because I have seen myself harm others. I know I am capable of indifference to my fellow humans, because I live in it (to preserve my own heart) much of the time. I know I am capable of hatred/gossip/bad-temper/unkind words/negligence/greed; I have seen these things in myself and I have seen their effect on others. And so I have tasted the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. I understand the need for grace. I hunger for the communal confession and absolution each Sunday. I have learned that the only way to stop from repeating the same sin over and over is to name it and put it in God’s hands.
But I could not get my head around this as a teenager. Perhaps it has something to do with frontal lobe development or naiveté. What we all were thinking and doing as teenagers has been a topic these past weeks. While two people painfully re-live their adolescence in the spotlight of international attention and critique,we cannot help but look at our own teenage years as each of us stood on the threshold of adulthood, strong and vulnerable, weaving the threads of our identity with the threads of human society, fumbling, hiding, feeling invincible or invisible, feeling dangerously fragile, feeling too much all at once.
It has become clear to me that all of us, for a variety of reasons, could use some truth-telling, some healing, some forgiveness, and some reconciliation for our younger selves. It is clear to me that God’s grace is big enough to handle us. It is clear to me that we have been put here to facilitate God’s grace for one another. It is clear that the kind of honesty, humility, and courage required will be very very difficult.
God is in all of this; looking to reconcile us to one another and ourselves, looking for us to turn the mess of our lives and the mess of our society into a catalyst of great and noble change, looking at each of us with love and compassion, looking at a world full of fumbling and wounded adolescents (aged 12-112) and wanting to parent us into a new era.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. The Sacrament of private Confession and Reconciliation is open to all. Just call Nancy or me. If you’d like to confess to a priest who you do not know, we can help facilitate that.