Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Knowing Our Sins

In the Path to Salvation Saint Theophan outlines a path that begins with faith, baptism and awakening grace.  This implants in us a desire, zeal, to do God's will and follow his commandments.  But more is necessary.  We still have to act on this desire.  Unfortunately, there are many forces that make this difficult for us due to the nature of our worldly life.  The first step to a god-pleasing life is to get a clear picture of our sinfulness.  He says,
"Now you must discerningly come to know that you are definitely sinful, and you must know to what degree––clearly, individually, and as if quantitatively, know your sins with attendant circumstances that diminished or magnified the sinfulness of the action."

Lent will be here soon, so it a good time to begin a deeper self-assesment. Saint Theophan gives us a very good way to do this which I have found useful in my preparation for Confession. While most readers of this blog are probably very familiar with this process, hopefully there will be a few aids to help even those who faithfully undertake an in depth probing of their own sinfulness.

Saint Theophan recommends that we begin with a systematic review of our life since our last confession using the following aids to help us recall and to document our situation.
First create a sheet of paper for recording which has a column on the left side titled "Law of God", and on the other "My Life".
Find a quiet time and place and use the following to help recall all your obligations in relation to God, your neighbor and yourself :
   Questions based on Ten commandments  (pdf)
   Passages from Scripture (pdf)
      Epistle of JamesEpistle of Paul to the Romans (12:9-21), Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, 
      First Epistle of JohnSermon on the Mount - Matthew Chapter 5  
   Common prayers said before taking communion.

Seek out the things you should not have done and those which you should have done but didn’t. Also examine your good deeds and try to see the motivations which were behind them. Was there a self serving agenda associated with them?

Be specific in your examination. In each case try and to identify the time, place, people involved and so forth. This will help you to avoid meaningless generalities and make you aware of specific behaviors that you will want to examine to change.

Once you have competed this list, which may be lengthy, identify the underlying pattern which shows you the characteristics of your inner heart. Identify the passions which are governing your life. Find the one passion which conditions all the other actions. Once you have identified this you have found the root of your sinfulness.

Next, reflect on these sins and their root until you see clearly that each one was committed according to your own desire. Don’t listen to the excuses your mind will begin to make for you. These don’t help. Keep working on this until you are ready to honestly say, I am guilty of this and that. In this process you may feel burdened and wretched. Don’t let this get you down. Feel good that you are uncovering your sinfulness and increase your desire to uncover them all. The right feeling to have is one of regret and repentance. This will lead you to making a vow to change. This is true metanoia or repentance.

Reference: Path to Salvation pp. 170-172

More on the Sacrament of Confession 

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