Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 10, 2001
The good that is left undone
For some people, the thought of the sacrament of Reconciliation stirs up memories of feelings of guilt. Guilt is not, in itself, a bad thing. When we have done something wrong - violated our relationship with God or with other people - we ought to feel guilty. We ought to seek out forgiveness, especially God's mercy which never fails.
Guilt can be something positive if it leads to true metanoia, a true turning-around in the direction of our lives.
But, left alone, guilt can paralyze. If we refuse to face our guilt, we can be unable to turn either to the right or the left. The broken relationship where reconciliation is never sought can prevent us from coming to the fullness of life to which God calls us.
Many of us, however - maybe even most of us - are blocked in coming to a fuller maturity less by some great unreconciled sin than by the good that we fail to do.
God calls us each of us to a unique personal vocation - a personal mission in life which, if faithfully followed, will bring us to holiness and make the world a better place for others. We have a responsibility to discern that call, not as a once-in-a-lifetime task, but as an ongoing search that draws us closer to God's will for our lives.
That personal vocation may be categorized as mother, lawyer, priest, refinery worker, day-care worker, etc. But those categories are the broad swaths within which our own particular flower blossoms. God calls us to be daily faithful in ways small and large to the particular mission he has given us.
For many of us, it can be helpful to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation by taking note of our faults, yes, but especially to reflect on our responsibility for the good that we ought to be doing, but aren't.
The more we understand what we are called to be, the more we can honestly repent of that which blocks us from living out the fullness of the graced call God has given us. The more we reflect on the Gospel, on the light of Christ, the more we can see our own places of darkness.
The sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of hope, not guilt. It is an instrument of hope for the world because it is an opportunity to move closer to the light.
The world is poorer if we fail to live out our personal vocations, taking the line of least resistance. Where would so many handicapped people be if Jean Vanier had remained satisfied as a philosophy professor in Toronto? Where would be the world be if Mother Teresa had chosen to continue to educate the children of the well-to-do in Calcutta?
Where would South Africa be today if Nelson Mandela had allowed himself to become bitter and discouraged during his long years in prison? And would the Soviet Empire still be standing if Lech Walesa had given up on his Solidarity trade union when only 10 or 20 people came to its first meetings.
Our world suffers greatly from economic inequality, war and environmental devastation. To some extent these ills follow from people making deliberate choices to do evil. But they are also the consequences of the good that has been left undone.
Few people have the opportunity to change the course of history. But if more people are relentlessly faithful to the unique personal vocations God has given them, we can expect to see a change for the better. The sacrament of Reconciliation is an important means for unleashing the power of hope in our lives and in our world. May we take advantage of this season - and all seasons - to make that hope more real.
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