One thing that every priest learns fairly early on by listening to people in the sacrament of Reconciliation is that we all have similar struggles, and recognizable patterns in our lives. When we seriously try to live our faith and free our lives from sin, after a while there is not much variety in confession. Unusual circumstances can lead us to commit some sin that is unusual for us, but we generally end up confessing the same kind of sins over and over. As more than one person has said, “Father, I sound like a broken record. I confess the same thing over and over again.” To which I could answer, “Join the club.”
This does not mean that we are not really trying to do better, nor does it mean that we are insincere when we ask for forgiveness. It means that weakness is part of the human condition in this life. Our behavior today is influenced by our past experiences, by our past choices, by our biological makeup and by our environment. Besides that, we have the effects of original sin. This does not eliminate our freedom or our responsibility for our actions, but it can mitigate our culpability, and it does help explain why we have to keep fighting the same sins over and over again.
And it isn’t just us: St. Paul, the great apostle, in the first reading today expresses that same frustration that we all experience: “I don’t do the good I want to do, and instead I do the evil I don’t want to do.” There is an internal war between our ideals and our human weakness, and although with the grace of Jesus our Savior we can win the war, we will not win all the battles.
This is why the sacrament of Reconciliation is such a gift. It gives us the opportunity to reconcile with God now in this life, before we have to face God as our Judge. Through the absolution and the penance we receive, we are freed from guilt and we make due reparation for our sins. This is what the Lord is speaking of allegorically in the Gospel today: we need to settle our affairs on the way to avoid being thrown into prison. And it’s not just a matter of avoiding eternal condemnation for mortal sin. Even venial sin needs to be expiated, either in this life, or after death in Purgatory, before we can enter Heaven. By all accounts, it’s better to settle our accounts voluntarily now in this life than to wait until our judgment after death.
Perhaps the most important thing, though, is not to be discouraged. As long as we are sincerely trying to do God’s will, and go to Confession as often as we need it, we are on the right path. If we don’t surrender the battlefield, Christ will win the war against sin in our lives, and at the end we can say with St. Paul, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”