Do you ever sit up and listen suddenly during the Sunday homily? That happened to me this week. Instead of the post I was planning, I am writing about Sunday’s Gospel, as I believe the Holy Spirit desires.
You see, for the past several months, I have pictured myself as the Penitent Woman at least once every day, as I pray or seek to overcome temptation. So when the Gospel is about this moving scene, I pay close attention.
I have also lately heard people questioning the need to confess venial sins–both on the internet and in person. The Church only requires us to confess mortal sins, and venial sins can be forgiven in other ways (such as reception of the Eucharist). So why bother to go to Confession for venial sin? (By the way, the Church only requires us to receive the Eucharist once a year too–but would we be satisfied with that bare minimum?)
There are many good answers to this question. I’m going to write about one: Confessing venial sins helps us love God more deeply.
Which comes first–love or forgiveness?
There is a certain mystery surrounding the Penitent Woman, which I believe is part of God’s plan. No one knows her identity. Some say Mary Magdalen, Mary of Bethany, the woman caught in adultery, and the Penitent Woman are all the same person. Others say they are all different. I say, the Penitent Woman is all of us.
The Penitent Woman had at least heard of Jesus before she washed His feet. Perhaps He saved her from being stoned. Perhaps she heard how He had saved another woman, and was filled with hope for herself. Did she anoint Him in thanksgiving for salvation, or to humbly beg forgiveness? Was she “forgiven much, because she loved much,” as most translations put it–or was she “forgiven much, thus she had great love,” as others say? I believe it was both.
Come back to thank God
Remember the ten lepers Jesus cured? Only one came back to thank Him. Nine showed no sign of love. Which do you think more likely became a saint?
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we meet Jesus. If Jesus came to your town, would you say, “Oh, I was at Mass on Sunday, so I don’t need to go see Him?” We don’t limit love to our needs.
If your spouse wanted to spend time with you, would you say, “Oh, we’ve done that recently; it’s not necessary?”
Sometimes we go to Confession because we need to. Sometimes we go to show God our love. And in showing our love, we are given the grace in the Sacrament to love Him even more. Saying, “I don’t need to go to Confession, because I’ve received the Eucharist,” smacks a little of the “once saved, always saved” mentality. Imagine the Penitent Woman saying, “I don’t need to wash Jesus’s feet, because He’s already forgiven me.”
We don’t do any spiritual practice solely because we have to, or solely because it will help us. Yes, there are requirements to get into Heaven, and it isn’t selfish to want to grow spiritually. God wants that for us too. But the spiritual life is all about love. It’s not about me–it’s about Him. He has forgiven and continues to forgive me daily. He gives me grace to live as a decent human being (and hopefully something more). He supports me, consoles me, heals me, encourages me. The least I can do is make the most of the grace He offers me.
From now on, I am making no excuses about going to Confession. It doesn’t matter how busy I am, or what other spiritual practices I am doing. I publicly pledge here to go to Confession at least once a month–more often when practical. Will you join me in this pledge? Will you wash Jesus’s feet with the tears of your love?
Will you be the Penitent Woman?
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Share with us: How has God’s forgiveness led you to love Him? How has Confession of venial sins impacted your life? Are you ready to pledge yourself to monthly Confession?