When the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery to challenge our Lord Jesus he refuses to condemn her. In fact, he points out the sinful nature of the gathered crowd and in pointing out their sin is able to disperse them. But then he does tell her to “Go, and now sin no more.”
Jesus is willing to meet the woman where she is at — one should rightly wonder where the man is, but that’s another column — and offer her refuge, but he does ask her to repent. Lent, the season of repentance we find ourselves in, calls us to fasting, almsgiving, and the reordering of our lives. Repentance means to rearrange your entire way of thinking, feeling and being in order to forsake that which is wrong. To repent is not just to run to confession, or simply throw an extra dollar in the plate —- it means to “Go, and now sin no more.”
No, I don’t want to discourage anyone from coming to confession, but I want us to reflect for a moment on the difference between unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness. The Lord God does love us, he is love, but his forgiveness does actually require something on our part. We must actually be sorry.
Our relationship with God is different than any other relationship that we might have, but in what relationship would you continue to do the same hurtful thing again and again, simply say sorry and assume that it’s going great? Instead, out of the abundance of love that God has for us, we should desire to be better, and as the act of contrition states, “to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.”
We have to avoid presumption and actually have a firm purpose of amendment. Let’s start with presumption. Presumption is a vice that is the opposite of hope, and often a fruit of pride. When we presume God’s mercy, it means that we are not actually sorry for our sins in any tangible way.
This is the “Sin on Monday, Forgive on Sunday,” kind of thinking. This often happens when we put confession off, so we can continue down the path of sin. For example, I already got sinfully drunk on Friday, (and I’m underage — another sin) and instead of going to confession on Saturday morning — I’m going to get plastered again on Saturday and then seek out a priest Sunday morning so I can receive Eucharist at Mass.
Here’s another example: I’ve already fallen to porn, so now I have permission to go as far down the rabbit hole of sin as I please. Presumption then, sins against hope by excess — I so believe in God’s mercy that I need not change anything about my life, I can just go to confession and get things straightened out.
Instead, we have to have that firm purpose of amendment. This is the actual determination not to sin again. Are you actually changing any of your behaviors to make it harder to sin? Are you avoiding the near occasion of sin? Are you actually going to listen to Jesus, when he says, “Go, and now sin no more,” or is confession just a get-out-of-jail-free-card? If there is no plan to change, no hard conversation, no behavioral change — let me be clear, I question your firm purpose of amendment.
Now I want to be clear, I believe in the law of gradualism — I am aware that it is very hard to break certain sinful habits, and we offer confession multiple times a week, often with two priests, but this Lent, instead of just promising to go to confession more, let’s repent, believe in the gospel and let’s heed God’s Word, “Go, and now sin no more.”