My Act of Contrition

When I started working in ministry, the most shocking lesson I learned by far was that people were going to complain about me all the time. Some of the criticisms were warranted, some not, some were benign, some not, some came from a deep desire to improve the faith life of our community. Some. Definitely. Not.

Like anyone in any profession that involves being on display all the time, I drew fire in amounts large and small, and my feelings of embattlement grew to match it. The second most shocking lesson I learned was how easily I slipped into playing defense, basing my decisions on what would keep people from complaining rather than what would serve the community.

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For catechetical and spiritual purposes I have been beginning classes with the Act of Contrition during Lent. Today I made a public but silly mistake just before prayer, and I laughingly indicated that I was making my act of contrition for that inconsequential error. Maybe I’m not supposed to laugh while being contrite, but with each passing year contrition becomes more a cause for joy than for sorrow.

Sin is bad. I am sorry when I commit it. But sin isn’t the evidence of my hopelessly miserable nature; it’s failing to be the marvelously loving child of God that I am capable of being. Sin isn’t a sign that I am incapable of relationship; it’s proof, through brokenness,  that I am made for relationship. Sure, I may miss the mark sometimes, but what a glorious mark it is!

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I felt the old liturgical music agita today as I frantically prepped for an event Easter Monday, as today was the last day I’d be at work until then. I jokingly apologized in advance to a friend, indicating that she might get a worship aid for mass that had hastily been folded crooked. She replied with what may be the best advice I’ve ever gotten: Don’t apologize for squat. Just sing louder.

We fill our lives with apologies, sometimes being so concerned with the little apologies that we miss the big ones. There are times when we have wounded another the only appropriate action is a true act of contrition. But do we waste the lion’s share of our contrition on the things we are embarrassed by, or the things that might draw criticism? I’m sorry for having opinions. I’m sorry for having a personality. I’m sorry for taking action.

More often than not, the apology isn’t necessary. The surest way to miss the mark is to try to avoid missing it. Instead, I need to try to hit it: singing louder, doing more, being myself. I’m not sure playing defense against sin is the best way to live a good life. Holiness isn’t about avoiding the bad (or the frightening, or the bold) but throwing one’s arms around the good.

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1 Response to My Act of Contrition

  1. Pingback: formica monday? (aka the tenth formica friday) | see preston blog

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