Who are you?
What is the most important characteristic for a person to have? That’s one of the questions we thought about in Young Oratory this week. And having considered the merits and pitfalls of cheerfulness and wisdom, of patience and fortitude, of love and kindness, in the end, we settled on the answer ‘being a good person’. Which is by no means a bad one. Especially once it was expanded to ‘being a virtuous person.’ It just turns out that choosing a particular virtue to prize above all others is not an easy thing to do.
It’s not essential to know the names of all the virtues and have a complete understanding of how they work in order to be a good person. But it is a good thing to think from time to time about the characteristics in a person that we really value, and to ask ourselves if we have them. Our particular virtues and vices, our strengths and weaknesses, give us the genetic make up of our moral character. And they’re an essential part of the answer to the question, ‘Who am I?’
When we go to confession, it can be tempting to approach the process with a checklist mentality. We look at an examination of conscience and think: no, no, sometimes, no, yes, no, once… Viewed like this, sin becomes the infringement of arbitrary and meaningless rules. God and the Church tell us not to do certain things, and while we may really be trying our best to obey, it will be a struggle if we can’t see how these actions are related to who we are.
When we go to confession, we should imagine that our Father is asking us a series of questions, the first of which is, ‘What kind of person are you?’ And to begin answering that, we confess our sins. And then God asks us, ‘Is that really who you are? Is that who you want to be?’
If you met someone for the first time and were trying to tell them about yourself, the list of sins from your last confession would probably not be your starting point. Our sins capture a very tiny snapshot of our character. They are not who we are. But they do describe who we are in danger of becoming.
God sets before us a choice: to be the person defined by what we have just described, or to be better than that. We don’t like it when people notice our moral failings. And that’s the right kind of instinct to have — to know that we are meant to be better than that. But rather than just trying to conceal our weaknesses, we should be trying to overcome them. We don’t avoid sin because it’s against the rules, but because it makes us into someone we don’t want to be.
And when God forgives us, he confirms that he made us for more than this. He brings us that one step closer to being the saint we’re meant to be, and the good person that we actually want to be.
Confession is the one sacrament we are able to make easily available at the moment. That is no small help. The Church encourages us to make a special effort to go to confession during Advent, but why wait a week? Now is the perfect time to make sure that you are really becoming who God wants you to be.