These words from St. Francis de Sales caught my attention:
Be sure always to entertain a hearty sorrow for the sins you confess, however small they are, as also a steadfast resolution to correct them in future. Some people go on confessing venial sins out of mere habit and conventionally, without making any effort to correct them, thereby losing a great deal of spiritual good. Supposing that you confess having said something untrue, although without evil consequences, or some careless words, or excessive amusement, -- repent and make a firm resolution of amendment. It is a mere abuse to confess any sin whatever, be it moral or venial, without intending to put it altogether away, that being the express object of confession.
I know I am guilty of this. I know that I have made a lackluster confession at times, without truly taking into account my own words as I say, "I firmly resolve to do penance, to sin no more and to avoid whatever leads me to sin." I am mortified by my ability to say the words without really comprehending them. It is troubling that in saying "I firmly resolve," I fail at times to, in fact, put behind that phrase my actual resolve, my sacred word.
Of course I have a propensity to sin. What strikes me, however, is the amazing and huge range of this propensity. I wonder how much less lazy I would have to be to live a truly devout life? How often, for instance, would I have to stop my tongue in mid-stroke? While I know that what I take to the confessional, generally, are not "serious" sins, they must reach the level of seriousness when I make no lasting and committed effort to reform.
It's so easy to live a "good life" badly. It's the default position, actually, isn't it? It's easy to speak harshly to my family, to loosen my will power on my diet, to be poor steward, to look away from someone in need. It's laziness of a sort and an easy garment to put on.
We are called to "put on Christ" and it is a tall order! As St. Francis says,
The ordinary purification, whether of body or soul, is only accomplished by slow degrees, step by step, gradually and painfully. The angels on Jacob’s ladder had wings, yet nevertheless they did not fly, but went in due order up and down the steps of the ladder. The soul which rises from out of sin to a devout life has been compared to the dawn, which does not banish darkness suddenly, but by degrees.
I find these words strangely hopeful. Every step toward holiness is, after all, a step, and one in the right direction. Conversion is a lifelong process, not a moment in time. I am tasked with starting anew this and every day, making each moment one of choice, and each choice a conscious one.
Thus, what started for me as a humbling conviction is now a source of hope and joy.