I wrote about our Catholic and Anglican identities in this post, but I continue to muse on this issue of who we are and how we should see ourselves.
This morning, when doing the Morning Office via phone conference, something about the confession at the beginning struck me:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
And then there’s the Penitential Rite in our Divine Worship Mass and the Prayer of Humble Access, the Non Sum Dignus and so on that seem to stress our identity as sinners, as “miserable offenders.”
Mind you, I would not want to change a word of these, but is our identity as sinners the end of the story?
I recall feeling a little annoyed at some of the arguments by more liberal Catholics after Vatican II regarding standing instead of kneeling, such as: “We are a Resurrection People” and thus redeemed and so we should stand. From what I understand Byzantine Catholics and the Orthodox stand for this reason, so maybe there is something to investigate in the theological underpinnings of standing and kneeling. And yes, in a sense they are right, we are a Resurrection People.
I prefer our kneeling as a sign of reverence in prayer, but I do think there can be massive problems in our spiritual life if we identify as sinners and not with who we are in Christ, with the new identity He has given us totally by grace through His death on the Cross.
In Christ, we are redeemed, we are washed in His blood, we are forgiven, we are dearly beloved. If we keep seeing ourselves stuck as sinners, well, we’ll stay stuck!
What annoyed me about the “We are Resurrection people” approach is that while it might be theologically sound, it seemed to me those proclaiming it had somehow emptied the Gospel of its meaning, especially the Crucifixion and the need for repentance. There seemed a whiff of cheap grace about it.
Yet, I do not believe we can fully come to acknowledge the horror and depth of our sinfulness—to look at ourselves with unflinching honesty—unless we do so secure in the knowledge that God the Father loves us and that Christ’s sacrifice and our baptism really did give us a new nature totally by grace. Yes, the “old man,” the “carnal self,” the “sin self” keeps trying to do its thing, but secure in the love of the Holy Trinity, one can observe the lies, the subterfuge, the sinfulness, the pride, whatever is there, and repent of the lies, and by the power of the Holy Spirit break their power over us and receive God’s blessings, appropriating into our lives more and more the new nature He has already given us.
I think we need to have more teaching on how to appropriate the promises of Christ, and to believe we truly are the adopted children of the Most High, and that the Holy Trinity is our Family. We need to do more teaching on what happens when we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light!