March 19, 2011

For those who are just coming to the blog, weekends are set aside for repetitions, a chance to go back to a prayer from the week and allow the graces of the prayer to deepen. This week, the focus has been on our sinfulness. As we continue to pray over our sins, it is helpful to remember why we do so. We do not pray over our sins just to wallow in self-pity and say “I am the worst sinner ever.” We also do not pray over our sins as though we were assessing ourselves at the beginning of a self-help program.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with a self-help regimen, it is important to note that the point of calling to mind our sins in prayer is very different. The idea behind the reflections on sin in the Exercises is not “self-help,” where we recognize that we are not doing everything we should and say “I will try to be better.” In the Exercises, as with Lent, we pray over our sins in order to be closer to God in all that we do.

On Ash Wednesday, the opening verse of the first reading at Mass was “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.” To return to God, we first need to call to mind that we have gone away from God. We pray over our sins to recognize where we are (and aren’t) in our relationship with God. After considering God’s love for us, we begin to realize just how poorly we respond to that love. Looking over the individual patterns of sin in our lives, we may even begin to realize that amending our lives is not a matter of our saying “I will return to you God,” but of saying “I have tried, but in spite of my best efforts, I cannot return on my own. Help me return to you, God.”

So, as we go back to one of the reflections from earlier this week, it is important to be mindful that we seek neither to begin a self-help program, nor to simply beat ourselves up for our failures. Rather, our prayers in these days are part of a larger movement where we return to God with our whole hearts. In all these prayers, we ask God to show us where we have failed to respond to His love, that He may help us to overcome these failures and return to Him.

March 19th, 2011