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Catholic Thoughts: Sins of omission: For what I have failed to do

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Do you ever mentally skip over the statement: “.. for what I have done and for what I have failed to do” in the Confiteor? We figure that reconciliation is all about those time we did something wrong like lying, cheating, losing our temper etc. What is missing is the things we ignored and silently choose not to do. These are called sins of omission. For instance, it is not that we deliberately lied, we just choose not to tell the truth, the whole truth.

I saw a man standing next to a mother with a baby in her arms, a toddler in the other hand and a seven-year-old standing next to her. They were talking and the mom dropped her paperwork. The man stood there and watch her struggle to pick up those papers. My jaw dropped as he stood there watching with not an idea in the world that maybe he could help her.

We may think that “no foul is fair play” as they say on the sports field. The whole emphasis in catechesis for reconciliation is to create a laundry list of offenses against the commandments. In fact, as I review our current, grade school text books, I hardly see a mention of sins of omission. It is no wonder that those omission sins fall through the crack. We simply are not looking for them.

We can sit there doing nothing to right a wrong, help out, correct a mistake or stop injustice. What is most challenging about sins of omission is that we can ignore doing the right thing and never get caught. It is up to our conscience to blow the whistle on us. James 4:17 makes it clear: “Anyone, then, that knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” It is time to ask our self the question. “Should I have done something? Did I just sit on my hands when God’s word teaches that I should have worked for good?

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting. Our discussion came round to an elderly priest whose homily went on and on. Most of us just sat there and listened as two folks berated him. Then, one brave soul admonished all of us. She called us to stop immediately and realize this holy priest deserved better than this from us. At first, I was offended. After all, I hadn’t said anything. I was not at fault. Then it hit me, I was afraid of what the others would think of me and didn’t have the courage to shame the others. So, I sat there and let them belittle a wonderful man. Bingo! Chalk up one sin of omission.

Where in your daily life do you find yourself doing nothing when a disciple should be moving in? Think about those times when you have been “too busy” to help a hurting neighbor, your elderly relative, or a good friend who lost his job. What about watching a accident and driving on because you do not want to get involved? Think of the times we are silent when someone gossips, demeans or lies about another. It is time we reread the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus nailed it and every Pharisee was squirming in his sandals.

Lenten reconciliation services are going on all over the archdiocese. Consider those “failed to do” moments in your confession. Now is the time to come back to God with all our hearts. We can’t go back and fix the times we failed to do something, but we can turn on our radar and be aware of those times when we must respond and do the loving thing. This a tough change of heart. Serving the poor, speaking up when an injustice occurs, defending the moral choice etc. means we may be labeled, dismissed and even persecuted.

Jesus warns us that this is the cost of discipleship. How can “what I have failed to do” fine tune our laundry list?

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