Grace: A deep knowledge of my sins and my personal responsibility for them.
Text for Prayer: 1 John 1:8 – 2:2
Reflection: It is not easy to pray on sin. We find all kinds of ways to avoid looking it straight in the face. Our minds wander. We keep glancing at our watch, wondering why the time we’ve set aside seems longer than usual. Or else we head straight for the sweet and easy thought of God’s mercy and find shelter there: a far more pleasant way to spend half an hour.
At this point in the retreat, we’ve already spent several days praying on sin, and there is still more to come. Not only that, but as of today, the incline gets a lot steeper and the route rockier. Today we turn from looking at sin in a general way—the sin of the angels, of Adam and Eve, and in the world around me—to the reality of sin in my own life. Not just sin, but my sin.
Why is it so hard for us to admit to ourselves that we have sinned? We have trouble even saying the word and come up with all kinds of euphemisms for it: short-comings, failures, faults, not living up to our ideals. At least part of the reason for this is that we correctly see that sin is alien to our true selves. Like St. Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rm 7:15) Seeing this war going on within himself, St. Paul pleaded, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rm 7:24) With Paul, we can also exclaim with intense gratitude: “Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rm 7:25)
What we would like to do is go straight to the relief of what Jesus did for us in taking our sins on himself without first having to experience the agonizing truth about our sins. But the danger is that we will end up deceiving ourselves into thinking that our sins are not that serious after all. Or that, all things considered, we have not really sinned at all.
But here’s the rub: if we have not really sinned, then we cannot receive God’s mercy. I have to stand up and say, “I did that. I abhor it and wish I had not done it. But you know what, I did.” And once I say it, I can hand it over to the Lord, who alone can bear the weight of it for me.
For today’s prayer, first read the text from the epistle of St. John and notice how it moves you. Then prepare yourself to come into the Lord’s presence, asking him for the grace noted above. In the time you have set aside for meditation, you want to do three things:
First. Call to mind all the sins you can remember from one period in your life, allowing your advocate the Holy Spirit to show you what he wishes you to see. What was their effect? Whom did they hurt? It will be helpful here to see in your mind the place where you lived, the people with whom you interacted, and what your daily routine involved.
Second. Consider God’s infinite goodness and how he is ever-greater from one moment to the next, recalling the graces you received from your prayer on the first day of the retreat.
Third. See all that God and his creatures have done for you, recalling the graces of your prayer from the second day of the retreat.
End by speaking with the Lord about what you have seen and experienced in prayer. If music moves you to greater devotion, you may draw some fruit from Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus”, a setting of the great penitential psalm.
Miserere mei, Deus, secundum misericordiam tuam! Have mercy on me, O God, in your kindness!