‘If anyone among us does not feel in need of God’s mercy, if he does not consider himself to be a sinner, it is better that he not go to Mass! We go to Mass because we are sinners and because we wish to receive God’s forgiveness, to participate in Christ’s redemption, his forgiveness.’ Pope Francis
The ego is a powerful force and is quite averse to taking real responsibility for errors of judgement. I had a very interesting experience earlier this week where in the space a several hours I watched myself play through the different elements of my ego’s response to causing someone offence.
It began with sending an email. The email was sent in haste without proper thought in the early hours of the morning. At lunch time one of the recipients of the email expressed his unhappiness with the email in a very direct, non-confrontational way. I immediately acknowledged his upset and the conversation ended.
In the minutes after the conversation I found myself tracking over whether his upset was reasonable or not, and I found myself trying to minimise the significance of what I had done. Then I stopped.
I realised that the point was, that I was in the wrong, and he did have a reason to be upset. So I sent a follow up email with a real apology and he responded quickly with a note of thanks. Issue resolved – no big deal.
Nonetheless I was still a bit angry and frustrated at having been exposed (albeit in a very private way – I don’t think anyone else was aware of the interaction at all). Having deprived myself of the possibility of projecting my anger onto my friend, it turned inwards and I started beating myself up – how could I have been so foolish….
And then I realised that my ego was well in control and playing havoc with my mind!
The point of this anecdote is that we avoid being called sinners at all costs. Truly coming to terms with the fact that we are broken, and that we knowing and unknowingly hurt others is not easy. We fight it through justification and excuse. Avoiding the uncomfortable truth that we are indeed a part of the problem with ‘the world’.
It is hard to come to terms with because we don’t believe in unconditional love. We hide our transgressions because we feel we need to. Being a part of the church doesn’t make us good. It certainly doesn’t make us sinless. Rather, it should be the one space where we can be freed from the crippling shame which causes us to withdraw and isolate ourselves when we have transgressed. It should be the space where we can hold our capacity to sin seriously, but lightly.
We come to church because we sinners. We come because we need redemption. And we should be doing all we can to help those who worship with us to access forgiveness.
In the small interaction this week, I found myself deeply moved by the process of admitting my fault, acknowledging the other’s right to be upset, apologising and being released from it by the other.
So simple, and yet, all too often we avoid it at all costs.