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Confession and the passive voice
Posted By Eric Sammons On December 1, 2009 @ 9:16 am In Spirituality | Comments Disabled
Imagine yourself at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confessing the sin of anger. Which of the following confessions do you think is more appropriate:
In the first case, the penitent confessing takes responsibility and assumes the burden for the sin. In the second example, even though the person says he is sorry, there is some force called “the anger” which appears and causes him to do something wrong. The burden of the sin is passed off the person onto something else.
In modern public discourse, it is the second type of “confession” that has become all to common: “mistakes were made” instead of “I made a mistake”, “I’m sorry for any hurt I caused” instead of “I’m sorry for what I did wrong”. We have turned every apology into the passive voice, thus passing the burden away from the person or persons who caused the problem to some impersonal force.
I thought of this when I read the following statement from the head of the Legion of Christ  (emphasis added):
We desire to live this day with a spirit of reparation and humility, united to Christ the King, who is rich in mercy. I want to take advantage of this letter to again sincerely ask forgiveness from all those who have suffered or are suffering on account of the sorrowful circumstances we have lived. God is inviting us to live this time by intensifying our prayer life, our acts of charity and penitential spirit, so we can unite ourselves more deeply to Christ and to our fellow brothers and sisters.
“On account of the sorrowful circumstances we have lived” – what exactly does that mean? Not only is it passive – there are some mysterious “sorrowful circumstances” which caused people problems – but it is so ambiguous that it could mean anything from a natural disaster to an unexpected death to a mistake in accounting. It is simply a vague allusion to the real situation: the founder of their order was a fraud who led a double-life and there is a good chance that others, including current Legion leaders, knew about it and covered it up.
Compare that statement with David’s prayer of repentance found in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense.
Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my offense; my sin is always before me.
Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight. (Psalm 51:3-6)
Or the words of Peter when he recognizes the power of Christ:
Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. (Luke 5:8)
These are true prayers of repentance; they are true confessions. It does not try to mitigate the fault for one’s sins; it places the fault squarely where it belongs: on the sinner’s shoulders.
During this Advent, let us resolve to be truly sorry for our sins and to confess them without excuse and without resorting to the passive voice. We are the cause of our problems, not anyone or anything else. Let us have the attitude of David in our repentance: “My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.” (Psalm 51:19).
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 statement from the head of the Legion of Christ: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=17853
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