Since Vatican II Catholics have largely deserted the confessional. Our Communion lines are full and our confessionals are empty. Unless there has been some radical change in human nature over the past half century, something I see no evidence for, there is something very, very wrong in all this.
Saint Augustine, who once prayed before his conversion, Lord make me chaste, but not now, knew the temptation to put off until some theoretical tomorrow repentance. We know that God will accept our repentance, but true repentance means putting away sins we are deeply attached to, or ones we in despair think we cannot summon up the willpower to avoid in future. Saint Augustine, in Sermon 32 responds to this manana mentality by reminding us that while God has promised us forgiveness He has not promised us endless tomorrows to seek His forgiveness. As we enter Lent, let us recall these words of the Bishop of Hippo:
I know, and as I do every one knows, who has used a little more than ordinary consideration, that no man who has any fear of God omits to reform himself in obedience to His words, but he who thinks that he has longer time to live. This it is which kills so many, while they are saying,
Tomorrow, Tomorrow; and suddenly the door is shut. He remains outside with the raven’s croak, because he had not the moaning of the dove.
Tomorrow, Tomorrow; is the raven’s croak. Moan plaintively as the dove, and beat your breast; but while you are inflicting blows on your breast, be the better for the beating; lest you seem not to beat your conscience, but rather with blows to harden it, and make an evil conscience more unyielding instead of better. Moan with no fruitless moaning. For it may be you are saying to yourself, God has promised me forgiveness, whenever I reform myself I am secure; I read the divine Scripture,
In the day that the wicked man turns away from his wickedness, and does that which is lawful and right, I will forget all his iniquities. I am secure then, whenever I reform myself, God will give me pardon for my evil deeds. What can I say to this? Shall I lift up my voice against God? Shall I say to God, Do not give him pardon? Shall I say, This is not written, God has not promised this? If I should say ought of this, I should say falsely. You speak well and truly; God has promised pardon on your amendment, I cannot deny it; but tell me, I pray you; see, I consent, I grant, I acknowledge that God has promised you pardon, but who has promised you a tomorrow? Where you read to me that you shall receive pardon, if you reform yourself; there read to me how long you have to live. Thou dost confess,
I cannot read it there. You know not then how long you have to live. Reform yourself, and so be always ready. Be not afraid of the last day, as a thief, who will break up your house as you sleep, but awake and reform yourself today. Why do you put it off till tomorrow? If your life is to be a long one, let it be both long and good. No one puts off a good dinner, because it is to be a long one, and do you wish to have a long evil life? Surely if it is to be long, it will be all the better if it be good; if it is to be short, it is well that its good be as long as possible. But men neglect their life to such a degree, as that they are unwilling to have anything bad except it. You buy a farm, and you look out for a good one; you wish to marry a wife, you choose a good one; you wish for the birth of children, and you long for good ones; you bargain for shoes, and you do not wish for bad ones; and yet a bad life you do love. How has your life offended you, that you are willing to have it only bad; that amid all your good things you should yourself alone be evil?
During this Lent each Sunday I will be posting quotes from Saint Augustine that will guide us to seek forgiveness and amendment of life this Lent if we will but heed the words.