This year, I was asked to help at my parish’s Advent reconciliation service, and as soon as work began to put it together, I became much more aware of the role of “I’m sorry” in daily life.
From “my bad” to “mea culpa,” the variety of ways we use to declare culpability and ask for forgiveness is astounding, and in some ways perplexing and incomplete, making it even more difficult for others to truly forgive transgressions.
Are we really getting to the heart of confession, forgiveness and peace of mind and heart? Does it matter if we are?
There is a connection between emotional and mental wellness, healthy social relationships, deep faith and the willingness to forgive. Intricately tied in with forgiveness of others is the ability to forgive oneself, too. The very anger turned to others, if turned on ourselves, can be as destructive if not more, wearing away at self-esteem and the ability to function at our highest level.
But if we become used to expressing wrongs inflicted on others (or ourselves) in an oblique, off-handed way, it can become much more difficult to fully understand the errors and mend the bridges damaged by them.
People say, “I misspoke,” or any variety of “I didn’t use the correct vocabulary.” But that’s not an apology. We also hear, “I feel bad,” but without delivering an outright apology.
I fully expect the phrase “my bad” to make it into the dictionary one day, even if it is confusing (is it apology?). I cannot imagine going to the sacrament of reconciliation and starting with it.
Beyond flippant statements that don’t amount to apologies, there is the blame game, the palming off of responsibility. Adam did it in the Garden of Eden, blaming Eve and God for eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and unfortunately, we see it played out again and again in the media and other areas of our lives. The possibility of peace and forgiveness becomes even more far-off if the offender tries to divert attention to another instead of accepting his or her role directly in the transgression.
Perhaps it is this last example that gets at the core of forgiveness and the beauty of reconciliation. We may not want to admit we are wrong or have done something wrong, but as much as we might squirm and use catchphrases or point the finger elsewhere, unless we drop our ego and stubbornness and work from direct honesty, the resentment, disappointment and other negative emotions will continue to build up. This will stunt our growth and potentially cause more problems later on.
As I reflected on the prayers for our service, I found greater comfort than ever in the simple, direct Confiteor, the act of contrition. It’s a challenging prayer, to be sure, but it cuts through today’s non-apologies. Most importantly, it arrives at the heart of fault and forgiveness.
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault, throughout my most grievous fault,
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
and all the Angels and Saints,
and you my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
(The absolution of the priest follows:)
May almighty God have mercy on us,
forgive us our sins,
and bring us to everlasting life.