Last week, I proposed as the theme for our reflections during Lent that of the difference between being a true follower of Christ and simply an admirer. Let us reconsider the point made by Kierkegaard describing one who is only an admirer: “he renounces nothing.”
First of all, what does it mean to renounce something? I came across a definition from the Cambridge Dictionary that I really like. It defines ‘renounce’ in this way: “to say formally or publicly that you no longer own, support, believe in, or have a connection with something.”
Working backward through this definition, we see that there is an object to be renounced. During this season of Lent (and during this month during which we are focusing on the Sacrament of Reconciliation), what we want to renounce is sin. Sin is something with which we freely choose to associate ourselves. For something to be a sin, we choose to do something that is contrary to God’s will. We see this in a portion of the definition of sin given in the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Sin is a deliberatethought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God.”
Let us proceed to the first part of the definition of the word ‘renounce’. To renounce involves a formal or public proclamation of our no longer wanting to be associated with our sins. We will do this in a general way publicly at the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday, when, in place of the Creed, we will renew our baptismal promises. One of the options for this renewal begins with the question: “Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the children of God?” Assuredly, we will all respond with a hearty “I do”, but will it be said of us that our response is indeed true? In order for it to be so, we have to be willing to renounce each and every one of our sins. A common response to that by some people is to say: “I tell God I am sorry in my heart” and that alone is sufficient to renounce our sins. While we should indeed tell God that we are sorry for our sins, we cannot overlook what the Scriptures themselves say on this topic. After the Resurrection, Jesus says the following words to His Apostles:
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)
The Church has understood this to be one of the principal Scriptural foundations for our belief in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is how Christ intended for us to formally renounce our individual sins to Him through the means He Himself has chosen, the Apostles and their successors (bishops) and those who share in this ministry of reconciliation (priests).
If you are still trying to determine if you are a follower or just an admirer of Christ, ask whether you are willing to renounce your sins by going to Confession this Lent. If not, you may just be an admirer, who claims to renounce sin in general, but is unwilling to do so specifically in the formal way that Christ (whom we claim to follow) intends for those who follow Him as His disciples “in Spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24)