The contrite heart

In 1982, a new Catholic fell in love with the prayers of the Mass.

Those words fed me in many ways: as music for the ear, wisdom for the mind and food for the soul.

There was only one problem. The words went too fast for this new convert.

I wanted our priest would slow down so that I could better savour the breadth and depth of meaning.

I started making notes during Mass, for my own prayer times.

Lord, you are Holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness…

Lent: …help us to understand the meaning of your Son’s death and resurrection and teach us to reflect it in our lives…

Pentecost: God our Father, you have given us new birth. Strengthen us with your Holy Spirit and fill us with your light…

After a while the prayers were internalised and the note-taking ceased.

I also liked most of our responses but did wonder why the female majority had to say, “for us men and our salvation…”

It was explained that the word “men” was inclusive, but I doubted that because it didn’t apply to other areas in the Church.

Why didn’t we simply say, “for us and our salvation.”?

Occasionally, a cradle Catholic would ask jokingly, what I thought of all the talk about sin.

Well yes, there was emphasis on sin, but my response was that for me, it didn’t go far enough.

Why

Because sin is our teacher.

Let’s put it this way: if we were perfect we would have no room for growth.

Today we know that each of our strengths has a  shadow side.

A person with high energy who is a natural leader, may at times be quick-tempered and a bully.

The peaceful, gentle person may also be lazy.

A maternal person like myself, can sometimes insist on “chicken-souping” vegetarians. We confuse mothering and smothering.

A Jungian psychologist will work with the shadow; but Jung did not discover anything new.

In the third century Church, a Desert Father ( whose name I have forgotten) used these metaphors to describe the human condition: We are part angel and part animal.

As one who has shared her life with animals, I recognise that the evil we project on a mythic being, is in other species.

It is the “me-first” impulse that comes from the primal instinct for survival. When it gets out of order, it can be very destructive.

Yet, dealing with it, brings new growth.

If I project my animal self on someone or something else. I know I am stunting my spiritual growth.

So I don’t think the Church goes too far with its understanding of sin.

It doesn’t go far enough.

At present, teaching about evil belongs in the era when we believed the earth was flat.

I need to recognise that t is the tension between my angelic and animal states, that brings about growth.

My sins can be messy, embarrassing, painful, but they are also my teachers.

I need to listen to what they are saying.

I’m afraid that the words of contrition in the Mass don’t have much meaning for me.

The accusation is huge as is the remedy, and I am not that important.

I replace them with my own prayer which I am happy to share with others who may also feel at a distance from the set language.

Lord Jesus Christ,
I bring my sins to you.
Show me how to learn from them,
turning the darkness into light.
Amen.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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