One of the most moving things ever to happen to me was a phone call at 8AM in the morning from a person I’d not seen in several years. He had called, however, months before to rant and rave about some mutual enemies, to berate our choices and to lament our loss of connection. In those days you could find someone’s number after a few years by calling 411 and just asking. It was a disturbing phone call to get:he was angry and hurt and I was someone he could talk to, I guess. To be honest, as much as I missed my friend, I was happy when the call was over. But the second phone call, at 8AM was a bit of a surprise. He announced, without knowing who I was, that the previous phone call was made when he was drunk, and that he was calling me because my number was on his phone bill from that time period. Who was I and would I forgive him?
He was dealing with Step 8 and 9…
- 8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- 9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sins are interpersonal. No matter how many times we go to confession, it is the interpersonal that matters.
When I left the Episcopal Church for Orthodoxy, I spent a good deal of time berating my former home until one day Bishop Seraphim told me to stop. He reminded me that those people loved me. They had done nothing wrong to me and, in fact, had led me to the next phase of my journey. Vladyka said to me, “There is grace before and behind.”
And I knew that I had to go and ask forgiveness. I called a friend and asked him to lunch and asked forgiveness of him – and of the community.
At another time, in my early twenties, I confessed shoplifting to a priest who asked me to return the items shoplifted…
It’s not that you have to do something in order to be forgiven. It’s that you have to live the forgiveness. Step 8 says “become willing to make amends” and Step 9 says we have to make amends “wherever possible” unless to do so would only further damage the relationship. You know places like that, no? Things that we needn’t bring up anymore… sins that to bring up would only make a greater harm. We’ve seen this in the child abuse scandals in other churches where to bring up the sins of the past is to relive them and damage others. We’ve seen it in South Africa, where Abp Tutu’s grace-filled Truth and Reconciliation committees only required that one say the truth… no matter how hard it was.
Christianity puts us in an odd place because it’s not about revenge, it’s not about “mking sure you get yours”, it’s about healing relationships.
So we must move forward – not backwards.
The key of David unlocks the doors forward and closes the doors to the past. We’re called to move forward, out of darkness. Jesus leads us, too. We’re able to lean on him to find the courage and the love to do these things.
Step 10 points out the crucial thing, though: we have to keep doing them. The Key of David, the Gate of Heaven and Hell, is the “Key of Peter”. It’s the sign Jesus gave to the 12 Apostles of the Authority of the Church to name his forgiveness before the world. And the way to do that is confession. Jesus is the Key… and he shared his authority with the Church, via the Apostolic Succession. Your priest wields that authority. “I absolve you in the name…” it is Christ, himself, speaking to you out of the darkness.
And having done so, we need to keep confession going. Confession is not a once and once only action: it is an on-going process of life reform. It is appropriate in Advent to take time out for a life exam and a sacramental confession, but, again, Advent is not a time of the year so much as it is a symbol. And so we are reminded now that confession is always. We must appeal to the Key of David for the grace to move forward.
And he gives it.