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The Return of the Prodigal Son - Bartolome' Murillo, 1670

The Return of the Prodigal Son – Bartolome’ Murillo, 1670

I’m a sinner. We all are in our own way and to our own degree. It’s our nature. It’s called concupiscence.

It seems no matter how hard I try I can’t not sin. Oh, I can go for three or four straight weeks and only commit a few minor venial sins (or so I think), but inevitably, through my own conscious free will, I cave in to temptation or an old habit that hasn’t yet been completely unlearned; or I act rashly in a disrespectful or uncharitable manner which I immediately regret. It tears me up – mostly because I know what I did was wrong and, also, partly because it injures the pride I’ve built up for having worked hard to improve and sin less as time has passed.

When I do this I know that waiting until Sunday morning mass and asking for forgiveness during the Penitential Act just isn’t going to cut it. No, there’s only one thing I can do to get right with God – make a trip to Reconciliation on Saturday afternoon and humbly lay it on the line to Him. The guilt and shame weighs heavily enough on my conscience that I know it’s pointless for me to try to talk my way out of it.

It seems to me that my most serious falls from grace occur early in the week, on Monday or Tuesday. When that happens I have the rest of the week until Saturday to contemplate and painfully stew on the thing(s) I wish I hadn’t done. Why can’t I commit all my more serious sins on Friday night or Saturday morning?

Sometimes during those several days between sin and forgiveness I find myself creating elaborate excuses for why I did the misdeed. But, eventually, I always get to, and spend sufficient time at, the appropriate level of contriteness needed for my confession. This, I think, is one of the beautiful things about the Catholic Church. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is such a great gift. Confessing my transgressions to God while I’m physically looking into the eyes of a real person, forces me to be honest with myself, the priest, and especially with Him. If I couldn’t do that I’m sure I would fall victim to my own inventions, justifying that the onus for my actions belongs elsewhere instead of solely with me.

When I do visit the priest and confess my sins to God with a truly contrite heart, and promise to not sin in that way again, I am often surprised at the lenient penance given to me. I usually feel as though I deserve less mercy and I’m always grateful for the mercy I do receive. But, then, sometimes I believe that those few days during which I agonized over my sin until I could get to confession may have served as partial penance. At least I hope so.

Last week as I waited for Saturday to roll around, I made my usual Holy Hour of Adoration on Friday afternoon. The convenience of this dawned on me: it is the perfect, last chance opportunity to thoroughly examine my conscience, shed the excuses and take full ownership for my actions. After all, it would be just a little difficult, if not foolish, to not get it right while I’m kneeling in front of the Tabernacle looking up at Jesus, and Him looking down upon me.

During that quiet hour last Friday I took time to read from my daily St. Augustine devotional. I was a couple weeks behind so I picked up where I left off with the passage from June 4th entitled, “Pride Can Destroy”. St. Augustine wrote:

“Paradoxically, it is good, in a way, for those who observe continence and are proud of it to fall, so that they may be humbled in that very thing on which they pride themselves. What benefit is continence for us if pride holds sway over our lives?”

What can I say? I can’t make this stuff up. He knows what I need to hear! This was just another one of those God-moments I’ve come to expect while I’m at Adoration. I looked at the Tabernacle and thought what a great and merciful Lord we have. All He wants us to do when we are tempted to sin is to look to Him and ask for His help. So simple, but our human nature makes it so difficult to accept His will. And I thought, if this is the way He reveals the truth to me, then, if I’m going to sin, maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all to do so early in the week!

I continued to read my devotional. Each daily passage is followed by a prayer from St. Augustine. The prayer for June 5th read:

“Lord, You truly gave me free will, but without You my effort is worthless. You give help since You are the One Who created, and You do not abandon Your creation.”


(The Bad and Good of Sinning on Monday was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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