Sunday’s Old Testament reading from Exodus where God – working through Moses – unveils the Ten Commandments is a familiar one. If it’s not, I recommend the Episcopal 101 or 102 class. Or, even a close viewing of Cecil B. DeMille’s classic starring Charlton Heston.
Joking aside, though, anyone who spent even a few years in Sunday school as a child undoubtedly remembers reading and learning this lesson. Perhaps you were even drilled in the Ten Commandments. I recall that we had to learn and memorize the Ten Commandments to make our first penance (or confession as we called it; also known as reconciliation). This was the big prerequisite for making first communion. Making your first communion was exciting, and a little bit mysterious, but in a good way. First confession… not so much.
First confession made most of us nervous. What to confess? I hadn’t broken any of the Big Ten rules. I didn’t even know what covet meant. And I’m not sure any of us at that age knew what adultery meant. (One friend likes to tell the story of how her brother thought adultery meant to think about girls. On his first confession, he told the priest he had committed adultery many times.)
You didn’t want to go too soft with the confessions (I was mean to my sister…) It might seem like you were holding back. And yet you didn’t want to go too strong because then maybe you’d have to embellish a little and well, how would that work, lying in the confessional?
Yes, early confessions produced some serious anxiety for 7-8 year old kids. But I think we probably got hung up on trying to understand the big stuff, and definitely sweated the small stuff. As I got a little older, I thought about confession differently. The priest was like Moses, something of a messenger to and for God. I didn’t have to get the words exactly right. I needed to get the intention right. I needed to get right with God and with anyone I had offended. But that, of course, led to the hardest part of this whole thing: forgiveness. It is hard to ask for forgiveness and it is hard to grant it. We are human after all and our tendency might be to hang onto offenses and hurts. Yet forgiveness is exactly what God expects from us. Jesus even gave us the words to pray for it: Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Some years ago during a Lenten homily, Fr. Merrow reminded us that if we had closed a door to someone in our lives, we needed to open it. The message hit me hard because I had seen in many families, my own included, how shutting a door can have such a devastating effect. I took the first tentative steps to reach out and repair an estranged relationship. It wasn’t easy and the road to reconciliation was bumpy. But the payout — love founded in forgiveness – was enormous. Opening the door, even a crack, is a place to start.
- How many of us have held onto grievances, minor and major, rather than letting them go?
- Have we closed a door on a relationship rather than seeking or granting forgiveness?
- Do the Ten Commandments still resonate for you in our anything-goes-type society? (The
“plots” of many reality TV shows seem to revolve around breaking half of them.)