It’s over 20 years ago, but it still haunts me like it was this morning. My wife (fiancée at the time) and I were visiting the priest who was going to marry us at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, where he was teaching. We were heading out to lunch, and as we drove down the long driveway we saw an older man off to the side of the road juggling shopping bags and trying to open a gate that was obviously stuck.
“Poor old guy,” Father commented from the back seat. I murmured agreement and continued to roll down the drive. Just as we were about to roll past where the older gent was still struggling with the gate Father piped up, “Stop the car!” He then proceeded to jump out and easily lift the gate so it could swing open. When he got back in the car, Father didn’t say a word, but I looked sheepishly forward, embarrassed that I had not stepped up to the plate when God had provided me with the opportunity.
My wife, Father and the old gentleman have probably all long forgotten the incident. For me, however, it still lingers in the recesses of my conscience.
I had sinned.
I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t broken any of the commandments. In fact, I hadn’t done anything at all. And that’s my point. By deliberately choosing to drive on by, I had committed a sin of omission.
Prattling off the Confiteor by rote each week, we probably don’t notice it, but we are reminded that the good we don’t do can be just as damning as the sins we wilfully commit:
I confess to Almighty God,
And to you, my bothers and sisters,
That I have sinned,
In my thoughts and in my words;
In what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.
Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…
Going into the confessional, it’s easy (kind of…) to list the sins we have committed. We have the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes to guide our examination of conscience. I actually have an app that takes me through the process, gives me a check list of all my faults, which I then scratch in hieroglyphs onto a piece of paper so I don’t forget anything.
But what about sins of omission? How do we recognize what we have failed to do?
Do you look the other way when passing a hand stretched out for spare change?
Do you give up your seat on the bus?
Do you offer half a sandwich to the co-worker with no lunch?
Do you offer to carry a senior’s groceries to their car?
Do you defend the faith when someone slanders the Church?
Do you take a stand for life? Marriage?
Do you hold the door open, or let it close in someone’s face?
Do you say thank you when you receive?
Do you wave when someone lets you into traffic?
As long as the list of sins I’ve committed is long, I’d bet that my list of sins of omission is just as long, if not longer.
Satan must kill himself laughing each time he sees us ignore the chance to do God’s will. This is his greatest secret. Daily we’re offered a multitude of opportunities to do God’s will, yet we choose to turn the other way. Lucifer doesn’t even have to lift a finger, and we quietly turn from God towards him.
To combat this, I’ve tried to consciously change the tactics of my examination of conscience. Not only do I reflect on the sins I have committed, I try to pick out the moments when I have failed to do good in the world. I look for the opportunities God gave me to be a witness to His love in the world and I failed to rise to the challenge. I confess these shortcomings and resolve to do better in the future.