Penitent Introspection

As an Anglican priest, one of the things I discuss with other Anglican priests are the various manifestations of the Book of Common Prayer. It’s an ongoing occupational discussion. Not unlike woodworkers discussing table saws, I imagine. It is a central tool we use, there are varieties, so we ask, “Which one do you use?”

There, of course, are some deep feelings associated with this. The “prayer book wars” have been occurring in this country in earnest since the release of the 1979 BCP. The last release before that was 1928, and it was also quite the source of controversy. But my point in this post is not to wade into those waters. Not directly. My thoughts this morning are related, but not meant to prop up one or detract another.

One of the comments that one of my dear friends and fellow priests made to me once in discussing the various liturgies is that he found a certain one, “Too, ‘I’m just a worm!'” Meaning, that he found it a bit heavy on penitence and confession and a little light on mercy and forgiveness. Fair enough.

Though, I do think that daily confession, daily self-examination, is important to our development as apprentices of Jesus. It is even vital, because without it, I find that it is easy for me to get to a point where I’m “doing good.” What I mean is this, I am not battling any besetting sin at the moment, no major rifts with wife or children, life is, by all appearances running pretty well.

But the scriptures would caution against thinking we have it all together, as would the saints through the ages. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s admonition:

“If my sin appears to me to be in any way smaller or less reprehensible in comparison to the sins of others, then I am not yet recognizing my sin at all.” (from Life Together)

It is good to look in the mirror each and every day. To get on the scale before God and ask, “How am I today?” If we do not, it is far too easy to think that, “I was doing fine yesterday, I don’t feel any different today, so everything must be fine.” Try that while watching your weight for a week, you’ll be amazed how fast you can put on pounds!

So, I say all of that affirm the efficacy of daily confession. I use the 1662 for my daily morning prayer. It is pretty thoroughly penitential. It starts with a call to confess, followed by a confession, and then absolution. A good, bright light cast upon my life by the Light of the World, that I may examine myself in his presence.

This, for me, is one of the graces of daily liturgical prayer. It brings us back, ready or not, irrespective of our feelings at the moment, to many things, including confession and repentance.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)


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