I went to confession in my hometown parish over Thanksgiving. I’d attended church alone, and I hadn’t been to confession in over a year, so when the priest said he was hearing them, I decided to go; I wouldn’t hold anyone up who wanted to gethome, nor would I make anyone uncomfortable (my family are decidedly NOT confession fans).
I actually think confession is one of the best parts of being Catholic. I think it’s incredibly healing to be able to speak about your shortcomings out loud and have a ritual that mimics God’s forgiveness. The stressful part, of course, is lining up your litany of “sins” before going in. Rather than make a list, I simply talked about a couple things that I felt were really interfering with my relationship to God and neighbor. When I was done, the priest asked, “Anything else?”
And I said, “No,” at the same moment wondering if it was a little arrogant. Because certainly I had committed more transgressions than the two I spoke about; but I also refused to “confess” behaviors and feelings that I no longer recognize as sinful, things like bisexuality, masturbation, exploring other spiritualities, and voting Democrat. So it’s true that, yes, my list of transgressions is shorter now that I’ve rethought what sin really means. And that got me wondering: what is Catholicism without the Sin?
My spirituality stopped being sin-based years ago, and it’s only grown deeper and richer with the absence of focus on sin. Letting go of a sin-based spirituality has allowed me to better love myself, and others, the way God must love us: unconditionally and with endless compassion, hurting when we hurt and when we hurt others. It’s not that I no longer believe that sin exists or no longer believe that it hurts God; I do believe in it. But I think sin is a lot more about who is hurting than a list of rules. And the less I get hung up on sin, the more I feel and live love, the less likely I am to commit what I feel are the “real” sins — hurting myself and others. Ironically, it seems to me that a fixation on sinfulness interferes with a call to love; constantly noticing your neighbor’s sins, constantly inflicting spiritual violence on yourself while you wallow in guilt from your sins, are not loving ways to live. But accepting failure as an inevitable part of life, and feeling compassion rather than shame when it happens, leads to deeper love of self, others, and ultimately, God.
But still, I’m not sure exactly what Catholicism without sin would look like, or whether that’s something I’m striving for. What do you think are the pros and cons of the sin-based aspect of Catholicism (and Christianity in general)? What would a faith that abandoned a fixation with sin look like? I’d love to hear your thoughts.