What I Have Failed to Do

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In the Catholic church, we often say this prayer (the Penitential Rite) at the beginning of the mass:

“I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
through my fault
through my fault
through my most grievous fault
Therefore, I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

 

(If other faiths also say it, I apologize for my ignorance. I’m guessing not, simply based on the invocation of prayers from Mary and the saints, but I’ve been wrong before…)

 

I’ve always loved this prayer because it reminds me– right there and on the spot– to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I like having that nudge and I also appreciate having the opportunity to ask others for their prayers.

 

Here’s what else I love about it, though…

 

I believe many of us feel fairly adept at recognizing sin. Steal something? That’s a sin. Fornicate? Sin. Take the Lord’s name in vain? Sin.

 

When it comes to the bad things we do, we realize they are sins. We can spot them in ourselves and others and we know how to call a spade a spade. Or, in this case, a sin a sin.

 

Those things are, indeed, sins, and it’s good that we recognize them. But, every time I say this prayer, I am struck by the rest of it. Read this part again with me, will you?

 

“I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”

 

Yes, no doubt, we have sinned in “what we have done.”

 

But, more than that, we have sinned in our thoughts… in our words… and in what we have failed to do.

 

—-How often do I fail to reach out to most marginalized among us?

 

—-How often do I neglect to give praise for all I’ve been given?

 

—-How often do I feel twists of scorn and judgment rather than love and understanding in my heart?

 

—-How often do I fail to mend fences?

 

 

Oh, yes. I have done and said plenty of sinful things. Those things cannot be ignored. But it’s easier to recognize and acknowledge them, isn’t it? Much harder to hide the mistakes you’ve put out there for the world. Apologize, repent, seek forgiveness…

 

But, oh, my brothers and sisters… the sins in my thoughts and in what I have failed to do?¬†They are just as heinous in the eyes of God.

 

Let’s pray for each other about those, too, shall we?

 

 

 

 

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7 comments to What I Have Failed to Do

  • Carrie

    The Anglican/Episcopal Church acknowledges the same in their confession one part is: “we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone…”

    Thanks for the reminder! Your writing is beautiful and thought provoking!

    • Thank you so much for sharing that, Carrie! See? I knew I was missing something. :) (And I LOVE to learn about other faith traditions!)

    • Elizabeth

      I recently started using a book of prayers that includes the one Carrie mentioned. I’m not familiar with the Anglican/Episcopal prayers (I was raised Calvinist), so it’s new to me. I really love saying these prayers, and that line always stands out to me. “In thought, word and deed…what we have done…and left undone.” My mom used to warn me against sins of commission as well as omission. I guess it’s the same thing. It’s a good reminder.

  • mlearley

    JessieLeigh, thank you so much for this thought provoking post. If you don’t mind, please pray for me about my thoughts…I’ve been having anxiety and borderline depression thoughts. My doctor gave me a very low dose medicine to try and that’s been giving me even more anxious thoughts, ones that I know are not of God. Thank you friend! :)

    • Oh, you got it, Michelle– I am happy to keep you in my prayers. I will pray for guidance for the doctor as well in helping you find whatever support will help get through this difficult spot. Hugs to you!

  • One of my favorite parts about the Church. When I don’t have the words, when I lose focus… there they are.

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