A TRUE CONTRITE CONFESSION AND SINCERE RESOLUTION
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
1st Reading: Is 43:16-21; Psalm: 126. R.v. 3; 2nd Reading: Phil 3:8-14; Gospel: Jn 8:1-11
In retrospect, prior to my application to the seminary just few months after graduating from high school, my father suddenly fell critically ill. On that fateful day, precisely in the morning, he suddenly slumped and was shaking uncontrollably as if he had a seizure. I can still recall vividly how my mother pillowed his head on her thigh as she sat helplessly on the floor with a table spoon in her hand trying to part her husband’s maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw). Noticing that my father was bleeding from his anus heightened the fear of the entire family who watched in utter amazement.
After the doctor’s diagnosis in the hospital later that day, it was discovered, inter alia, that my father had internal bleeding which was likely caused by over consumption of some aspirin medications that affected the lining of his stomach. My father was good at consuming over-the-counter medications in an attempt to tranquilise his intermittent headache and body pain.
Reminiscing the whole experience now, reminds me of the tension I felt then. I wondered if my father would survive the illness or not. I even made a deal with God that my going to the seminary was dependent on my father’s survival. I also wondered what could be going on in my father’s mind as he battled death. Probably, he was also striking a deal with God and making some promises to win back his life. Of course, most of us do the same in the face of the tension of death.
The woman caught in the act of adultery in the gospel of today most likely experienced this same tension as she watched herself surrounded by a mob poised with stones in their hands to implement the Mosaic law. Her fate was already known to her. She thought she was going to die. Probably, she was praying for a quicker and a less painful death as she crouched on the ground. It could also be that she was hoping for a miracle from somewhere and making promises to God if she makes it out alive.
We are often inclined to do the same when in danger or in desperate need. Bargaining with God to get ourselves out of trouble or to get some favour from God. We do this in times of sickness, war, pogrom, and imprisonment. Even during some crises in marriage, relationships, business, vocation, or in our search for job opportunities and positions of authority, nearly all of us resort to this tension-based bargain. But the interesting thing is that God is not rattled by these cheap bargains.
As this woman caught in the act of adultery was possibly busy with her tension-based bargain and wondering what becomes of her fate, Jesus bent down and was busy doodling on the ground and putting together in his mind how to save this poor sinner. Isn’t this interesting? This simultaneous inharmonious reflection of Jesus and this woman goes without saying the intention of God towards us as we make our bargains. A God who is not interested in opportunistic bargains but in our salvation. A God who gives us a second chance not because of our promises but because of his love for us. A God who is not interested in what we have failed to do in the past but what we are capable of doing in the future by his grace.
As the mob began to drop their stones and walked away one by one after the admonishment of Jesus, the tension in this woman began to lessen gradually. She must have made a huge sigh of relief when she suddenly looked up and found no one ready to stone her. It is important to note that it was at this point that Jesus said to her “. . . go and do not sin again.” (Jn 8:11). This underscores that it is within a tension-free moment that sincere decisions are made and not those promises made under the tension of unfortunate circumstances.
Contrition (remorse for sins committed with resolution not to sin again) is a requirement in seeking God’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation. However, what we do after receiving God’s forgiveness is most important to God. Whatever choice of life this adulterous woman chose to live after being saved by Jesus either defines or disproves what true repentance means. If she made sincere effort thenceforth in living a good life; then, that is true repentance. But if she effortlessly reverted to her old way of life after that unmerited mercy, then it shows she was truly not repentant.
Most promises and resolutions we make to God in the face of crises are usually short-lived. This is because we made them out of the impact of independent forces. We should not drag this pattern into sacramental confession. Like going for confession because others are going or because we are compelled to do so by parents or guardians. Some only remember the sacrament of confession on their sick or death beds or when they are reminded by their priests through church announcement. The likely consequence of this is that when such people make their confessions, they will end up confessing and promising what they don’t mean and thereafter revert back to their old ways of life. We can’t make headway by doing this.
In this period of Lent, we need to learn to make a sincere willing confession; that willingness of personal disposition to confess our sins not because of some external independent influences but because of our own choice and disposition to still confess independent of those external factors. This can initiate true repentance and sincere resolution not to sin again.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for the grace of true contrition and sincere resolution. Amen.
Happy Fifth Sunday of Lent