The person who possesses knowledge and knows the truth confesses to God not by reminding himself of things he has done, but by patiently enduring what happens to him. (St. Mark the Monk)
As we move into the Fast, it is a good time for us to examine our consciences to see what is in our hearts, and to know of what we need to repent in order to follow Christ. For basically repentance is removing all those obstacles from our hearts and lives that prevent us from being faithful disciples of Christ. Confession occurs not just when we go to the sacrament, but daily when we admit our faults and failures to our Lord. As St. Mark the Monk notes above confession occurs daily when we realize that much of what happens to us is the result of our own choices and because we live in a fallen world. When we recognize the effects of the Fall on our daily lives, we are admitting that the power of sin in the world is noticeable – both in how we behave and how others behave toward us. The fact that life is not fair, that sin abounds, tells us this is the world of the Fall. There is a reality that the only person we can change in the world is our self. [This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work for justice. It does mean that we must never cease struggling against the sin which is in our own hearts.]
It is because our behavior matters and does affect both others as well as our self, that the examination of conscience and the confession of sins is important. We are by nature relational beings, we need to consider how our behavior, thoughts and even our attitude is a reflection of whether or not we are guided by the Gospel commandment to love one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34). Admitting our sins, faults and foibles is not failure but rather how we show that we recognize Christ’s lordship over our daily lives. Confession is acknowledgment of reality, of what is in our hearts, as shameful as it might be, as reluctant as we are to admit it.
Do not conceal your sin because of the idea that you must not scandalize your neighbor. Of course this injunction must not be adhered to blindly. It will depend on the nature of one’s sinfulness.” ( St. John Climacus)
St. John Climacus recognizes that admitting one’s sins is a good thing, and yet it has to be practiced with wisdom and discretion. Just a fear of scandalizing others is not in itself justification for concealing one’s sin (note he said sin, he didn’t say every thought that comes into your head, just your sins. The behavioral sin might be obvious to others, but we don’t need to discuss with everyone every errant idea that passes through our minds). However, as he also notes, he is not putting down an unbreakable rule – one has to use wisdom in knowing when to openly admit to one’s sins. There are some things we do which it is not wise to tell everyone. We need to confess those to our father confessors, to those who are better prepared to deal with humans as fallen sinners. If we are honest to our self about our sins, we recognize also how our sins impact our lives and the lives of those around us – especially the ones we love. Instead of becoming bitter for sin or blaming others regarding sin, when we recognize its power in our life, we can make an effort to correct it and to find the better way to love others or at least to own it and repent of it.