We are sinners. We are fallen. We often cannot control our bad habits and sinful tendencies. Conversely we often have difficulty doing the things we are supposed to do, even when those things would be good for us and to our benefit. We buy into the falsehood of the time-value theory of money, that it is worth paying more tomorrow for the convenience of doing something today. We pay spiritual interest on our souls, sinning becomes a moral credit card that we rarely pay off even though we know we ought to get out of debt and shred the plastic. Paying off the debt and shredding the card is the Confession of sins and the resolve to sin no more.
Troubled Catholics and former-Catholics (lapsed or otherwise) are the most difficult people in the world for me, and yet I love them all to bits. One such fellow I know—broken family, poorly catechized, went off to serve in the Army, and then had way too much "education" at Georgetown University—is a self-described "half Roman Catholic pro-Zionist Deist." He is a fan of "Yeshua Mashiach," Dick Cheney, and "believes in God for scientific reasons." And yet this same fellow is very much haunted by his own sins and his own understanding of the power of private reasoning. Constantly he asks about the faith, the teachings of the Church, the authority of the Church, and the meaning of the Sacraments. This is not a reaction of childhood conditioning to modernity, the poor fellow never really had a strong Catholic culture. The most telling moments of his struggle transpire whenever I visit him and, for whatever reason, find myself going to Confession.
The last time I visited him I went to the basilica in his town, built by a Vincentian up for canonization. There were four confessionals open, each with an enormous line. I waited for about 30 minutes before my turn. I confessed, received from the priest Our Lord's forgiveness, and knelt in a pew near the altar to do penance and say my Rosary. I noticed my friend at the back of the Confession line. After some time he decided against it, saying "Nah, I've got too much. I would take too long." "It's his job to wait and listen to you," I replied. My protest was in vain. This was not the first, nor will it be the last, time I have seen him staring at the confessional. The mercy of God mesmerizes him as it does many other people who see it, but are afraid to touch it, much like Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited when Charles meets her during a transatlantic crossing.
People fall away from God, first and foremost, when they forget what it means to be a sinner. Before the Passion of the Lord most of the Apostles seemed utterly clueless, nigh stupid, until the Holy Spirit finally enlightened them. Judas was the exception. He was clueless, yet he thought he knew what he was doing. One might imagine the Apostles watching in confusion and unease as the sinful woman washed Our Lord Jesus' feet with the vial of perfume, but only Judas had the gall to speak up and suggest that he knew better than what pleased Christ. I have come to believe Judas was not a "bad guy." He was probably very pleasant and acceptable to people of many social circles: the Temple Jews, the Pharisees and Scribes, the revolutionaries, and the followers of Jesus. His betrayal of Our Lord was probably done under a troubled mind polluted by the lies of the evil one, but it was a betrayal all the same. Was St. Peter's betrayal any lesser? Denying Our Lord not once, as Judas did, but three times?
Herein is the difference. Peter sought forgiveness after the Resurrection. Peter, although confused, must have maintained some loving pity and sorrow, sorrow for one's sins rather than for one's self. This preserved him until he could see Jesus again. Judas however fell into despair immediately. Yes, he wanted to undo what he had done. He threw the silver coins at the Sanhedrin hoping they would accept the money, instead of making a property purchase, and return the Lord. They did not and his despair worsened. He hanged himself. Peter overextended his spiritual credit, but desired at some level to "pay it off" and turn himself around. Judas did, too, but for the wrong reasons. Peter was the rock of the Church, the Prince of the Apostles, a Saint to all Christians in every place, and the one honored with the grandest of all churches. Judas? Dante put him in the deepest part of Hell. St. Therese held out some hope for him and prayed for his soul. There is a world and an afterlife of difference between being great among the saints and, at best, a pessimistic literary subject remembered for the worst betrayal in history. What was that world and afterlife of difference? The nature of their contrition.
Confession keeps our contrition forthright and honest. Humility, not just habit, brings one to kneel in a dark, quiet cell once a week and say "I have sinned." Humility builds the habit, not the other way around. The less one makes this act of deprecation, of violence to the ego the more one drifts into private judgment, replacing the Revelation of God to Man with Man's Revelation of God to Himself. The most common consequence of this is the loss of faith, much as the most common consequence of excessive spending is a credit rating of zero. And yet there are some who still hear faint echoes of the voice of God in the backs of their minds and souls, telling them to repent. Best repent now, lest the ears and heart become too hard to listen. Confession is always available at a parish near you. Shred the "card" and the sins before you cannot keep up with the bills it brings. Then you may never come back.