Lord, Have MercyLord, Have Mercy
Scott Hahn
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An illuminating, reassuring explanation of the Catholic Church's teachings on confession and forgiveness. About the author: Scott Hahn, an internationally renowned Catholic lecturer and theologian, is a professor of biblical theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is the director of the Institute of Applied Biblical Studies and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. His books include A Father Who Keeps His Promises, Rome Sweet Home (coauthored with his wife, Kimberly), The Lamb's Supper, Hail, Holy Queen, and First Comes Love.

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Confession is a mixed-up matter for many Catholics. The more we need it, the less we seem to want it. The more we choose to sin, the less we want to discuss our sins.

Itís only natural, this reluctance to speak up about our moral failures. If youíre the losing pitcher in the final game of the World Series, youíre not going to seek out the sports-writers on your way to the locker room. If your mismanagement of the family business has driven most of your kin to bankruptcy court, you probably wonít volunteer that information at a cocktail party.

Sin, moreover is the one thing in life we should be ashamed about. For sin is a transgression against almighty God, which is a more serious matter than a business blunder or fat pitch down the middle of the plate. When we sin, we reject the love of God, to some degree, and nothing can be hid from God.

So, again, itís only natural for us to wince at the very thought of kneeling before Godís representatives on earth, his priests, and of speaking our sins aloud Ė in clear terms without whitewash, without excuses. Self-accusation has never been humanityís favorite pastime. Yet itís essential to every confession.

To dread confession is only natural, yes, but nothing thatís ďonly naturalĒ can get us to heaven, or even win is happiness here on earth. Heaven is supernatural; itís above the natural, and every natural happiness is fleeting. Our natural instincts tell us to avoid pain and embrace pleasure, but the wisdom of the ages tells us things like ďNo pain, no gain.Ē

Whatever we suffer from speaking our sins aloud, itís far less than the pain we bring on ourselves by living in inward or outward denial, acting as if our sins donít exist or donít matter. ďIf we say we are without sin,Ē the Bible tells us, ďwe deceive ourselvesĒ (1 Jn 1:8).

Self-deception is a nasty thing in itself, but itís only the beginning of our troubles. For when we begin to deny our sins, we begin to live a lie. In our speech or in our thought we have broken important connections of cause and effect, because we have denied our own responsibility for our own most grievous faults. Once weíve done this, even in small matter, we have begun to erode the contours of reality. We canít quite get our story straight, and this canít help but affect our lives, our health, and our relationships Ė most directly and most profoundly, our relationship with God.

Thatís a big claim, I know, and some people might think Iím exaggerating. The rest of the book, I pray, will bear this lesson out. Itís a lesson I began to learn, the hard way, long before I believed in God or saw a confessional.