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For Your Weekend: The Things I Have Failed To Do

Laura Phelps

Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 25:31–46

Have you ever wanted to crawl out of the confessional? I have, just a few weeks ago, when loving words of correction on the other side of the screen were interpreted as, “You idiot, don’t you know anything?” Caught off guard, I debated dropping to the ground and quietly crawling out the door. 

I hear some of your thoughts, you know.

“This is why I don’t go to confession. Why tell a man my sins when I can go directly to God?”
“I don’t need to tell a priest my sins. He’s probably a bigger sinner than me!”
“I don’t need confession. I’m a good person. I haven’t killed anyone.”

Confessing our sins is a hot topic, even for some Catholics. I’ve led many small groups using Walking with Purpose Bible studies, and no lesson requires prep work like Lesson 11 in Opening Your Heart: "What Does the Sacrament of Penance Have to Do with My Friendship with Christ?" Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes, “Our feelings about the sacrament of Penance aren’t impacted just by our view of God. We’re also influenced by our culture’s sensitivity (or lack thereof) to sin. In the words of philosopher Peter Kreeft, ‘We usually think we are morally good because we measure ourselves, not against the standards of our Lord, but against the standards of society.’ And our society excuses quite a lot.”[1]

Too bad our final judgment is not up to what society thinks. It’s up to God. 

This Sunday's gospel paints us a picture of Judgment Day: the Son of man coming in glory, taking His place on His glorious throne as all the nations gather before Him. Using the shepherd metaphor, He separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep on the right He calls, “O blessed of my Father,” and reveals the actions that determined their judgment: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35–36). The sheep are confused. They do not recall ministering to the Lord. And so He answers, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

The goat's story has a different ending. Placed on the left, He calls them “cursed” and instructs them to depart and enter the eternal fire. He explains that their failure to minister to His needs determined their judgment. Having no memory of refusing Jesus anything, He makes it clear, and dare I suggest that His response should shake us into spiritual wakefulness: “As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45, [emphasis added]).

According to this passage, the only condition described for losing heaven is failing to love God by loving our neighbor. It’s the key Scripture basis for the seven Corporal Works of Mercy[2], and I can’t speak for you, but this takes my nighttime examen and turns it upside down. I’ve perfected the skill of noting the good and bad things I have done. I have not given enough thought to all those things I have failed to do.

Do you ever think about the things you don’t do for Jesus?

Our not doing has a name. “When people ignore doing things God expects them to do,” writes Laurika Nxumalo, “they are committing the sin of omission.”[3] Most of us are familiar with sins of commission. These are the sins we take action to commit, like when Eve took the apple and bit into it. Sins of omission, on the other hand, are sins that leave undone the good or duties that we are obliged to do. For instance, skipping Mass on Sunday, when I am fully aware of the Lord’s command, would be a sin of omission. This theology comes straight from Scripture in James 4:17, which teaches, "So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin."

So, what is the right thing to do? As Catholics, the right thing to do is to put the needs of the most vulnerable first, take care of our community, love our families, respect life, serve others, and stand up for the Church’s social teachings.[4] But can we talk turkey here for a minute? Because I think that most of us have a pretty good handle on this. We love donating our clothes, dropping coins in the collection basket, dropping groceries at the local food pantry, and maybe showing up at the homeless shelter and helping serve a hot meal. But that’s not what this gospel is talking about. It’s not about the things we do, but rather, the things we refuse to do. Things like picking up our husband's socks off the floor without complaining. Holding our tongues when we want to vent about a co-worker. Listening to a friend without interrupting. Saying “hello” to the neighbor we were hoping to avoid. Smiling at the angry cashier. Loving the difficult people the Lord has put in our path. When I think about it like this, truth be told, what I refuse to do far outweighs the good that I like to do.

We can write sins of omission off as no big deal, but the reality is that they can be more serious than we realize. Omission almost always leads to commission, because all sin builds a wall between God and us, dulling our senses and tossing wisdom out the window. In short, sins of omission weaken us, and oh, how the enemy loves to tempt a weakened soul! 

But do not fear; our Catholic faith is incredible and provides every means possible to strengthen our souls and protect us from sin. We not only have the healing sacraments but also the Word of God to guide, teach, instruct, and train us every step of the way (2 Timothy 3:16–17). As Father Bartunek writes, “At the end of life, we will all have to take a final exam, the only exam that really matters. Christ is the examiner, and in this passage, he gives us, ahead of time, not only the questions on the exam but also the answers.”[5]

In case you are wondering, I chose not to crawl out of my last confession. Instead, I prayed an act of contrition, received absolution, and then stood up and walked out of the confessional on two feet like a sane, grown woman. Praise God for this good and holy priest who, in persona Christi, guides me as a true shepherd who cares for his sheep. He is preparing me for the final coming, that joyous reunion, when I hear the glorious words, “O blessed of my Father,” as I take my place on His right.

Food for thought and journaling...

What have you failed to do for Jesus? Examine your conscience and run to Jesus in the confessional! He is longing to meet you there. Then pray:

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. Amen.

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart: The Starting Point (Walking with Purpose, 2008–2015), 119.
[2] “The Corporal Works of Mercy,” USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, accessed November 2023): https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/jubilee-of-mercy/the-corporal-works-of-mercy.
[3] Laurika Nxumalo, “Recognizing The Sin of Omission,” Catholic Stand (24 November 2020): https://catholicstand.com/recognizing-the-sin-of-omission/.
[4] “Justice, Peace & Human Development: Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching,” USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, accessed November 2023): https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.
[5] Father John Bartunek, LC, THD, The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer, (Avila Institute, 2007), 295.

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