“Humility is the only thing that no devil can imitate.” – St. John Climacus
I cannot speak for others, but I have always found confession very hard—an exercise in twisting words out of myself, of things that I know I’ve done wrong, but every fiber of my being resists vocalizing. For to speak is, in a sense, to make concrete and lasting; having to say the words, especially to a priest, carries with it a certain humiliation.
And that last word is really the key to this reflection: “humiliation,” because it is related, albeit distantly, to the word “humble.” Pulling away from confession really stems from pride, what many an ancient and medieval Father called the root of all other sins, not to mention the cause of the Fall.
Confession asks us not only to consider our own pride, but to open ourselves up to rebuke, not merely to interrogate our sin, but to accept forgiveness. It’s so easy to dwell on our wrongdoings, to be ashamed, to fear consequences—but such an attitude stems exactly from pride; it displays a lack of faith in His authority to forgive sins. Humility is the opposite: it means to accept the possibility of being forgiven, not to hold our sins within ourselves, but to place them before the one with the power to have mercy upon us.
And as someone in his early 20s, living in these times, this reflection seems particularly apt. We live in an age of constant scrutiny—we can be quoted or recorded at any time; our messages and comments can always be screenshotted and reproduced. Worse even, we can say whatever we want, when we want—and leave it there for posterity.
I suspect that this makes us less willing to apologize, more defensive, and, ironically, more vocal and opinionated.
But, as a Millennial, I can say from firsthand experience that is not the form of confession we need. We have the means to speak at all times, and often fall into justifying our sins, or, conversely, into succumbing to the shame of their coming to light. On the one hand, we have a greater ability to defend them; on the other, greater scrutiny to lead us into the quagmire of self-hatred and self-pity.
All the more reason to confess regularly; all the more reason to grow in humility, that is, in not only admitting fault but also in having the courage to vocalize it, reflect on it, and accept forgiveness for it.
For what does St. Paul say of Christ?
“[H]e humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)