Decades ago, in a classroom characterized by all the features modernity rejects, we rose as one body at the end of each school day. The principal’s voice crackled from a state-of-the art intercom system replete with a single speaker. There was a firm invite to examine our young consciences. Then, with firm resolution, she lead us in a chorus of the Confiteor. “I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters…”
At the time, the ritual was just that: a given part of a day’s experience. It was not until much later that the deeper meaning dawned: essentially, we were acknowledging that we all make mistakes, but what we do does matter. We were saying out loud that our flaws are not secrets; they are visible to all, and we know it. Even further, we were saying that we would make a conscious effort to do things differently. That was a clear commitment to self-improvement and to being able to gift our communities with our best efforts.
Now, as the liturgy opens, there is the same chance to take that moment and admit who we are publicly within a group of people striving, hoping, to do the same. It is a challenge beyond that of social media scrutiny and hashtag tweets. Most of all, there is a realistic element to the very human confrontation with self. There is absolutely no doubt that no one of us is perfect, and no human journey is without either suffering or purpose. More than anything else, we share a common journey.
And in the acknowledgment of personal responsibility comes the reality of accountability to self and others. Those few sentences of the Confiteor are deep reminders of the continual need to choose purposefully or wisely within the parameters of each circumstance or context. They are encouragement to keep trying no matter what happens. And stuff does happen.
That is why the closing phrases ask for prayer for one another, for support on the journey and strength for the next round of being and living. At Mass, there is that moment of absolution…a moment of grace for renewed efforts to identify and do the right thing, to become that better person for our own sake and the sake of others. The simple truth of the whole prayer is that we need not exist in this world alone or nested in only superficial, virtual or artificial realities. Flawed as we are, we can live with and for one another .
So many of the children of those cladssrooms, who recited those words, have found grief in the scandals and abuses within the church. Many have sought alternatives and found comfort in the empirical experience of science and the secular. Other practices like yoga and fitness, sports and shopping, have won loyalty and the chance to shape lives. And yet, there are moments when simple words echoing through decades somehow shed light on strategies and ways to negotiate contemporary 21st century lives.
Penitential Act (Confiteor)
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,
[Pray while striking the breast three times.]
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
[At Mass, absolution by the priest follows.
The people reply: Amen.]