When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For not we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13: 11-13
Therefore, O Lord, remember not the sins of our youth. (from the 5th Prayer)
There is a reason why the military recruits 18-year-olds to join. That’s because the human brain is not fully formed by age 18. The last part of the human brain that forms is the part that controls fear and consequences, which doesn’t form until we are 25. The 18-year-old brain will follow allow a soldier orders without question and “take the hill.” The 40-year-old brain will think “there are guns on that hill and I could die.” This is not any criticism of the military. I am very supportive of the military. But it is one of the reasons that the military recruits younger people.
It’s the same with people who are in college who do all kinds of crazy things. Those same people, when they are 40, no longer do those crazy things, or take unnecessary risks and they look back at college and realize what they were doing wasn’t the smartest thing.
We all did things in our youth that we wouldn’t do as adults, whether it was taking an unnecessary risk, or doing something wrong that we thought was okay.
There is one line from the Fifth Prayer of Holy Unction that has always stood out— “Therefore, O Lord, remember not the sins of our youth.” Each time I pray that I give thought to some of the sins of my youth. Some were done with immaturity; some were done in ignorance (I didn’t think they were sins at the time I was doing them and I know better now); and some were just plain wrong and I didn’t care. Looking at myself as an adult today, I would never have done some of those things. Yet, I don’t want to carry shame for them. This is why we pray for God not to remember the sins of our youth, because our youthful indiscretions do not have to define us as adults. There is only one reason for us to remember the sins of our youth—so that we do not repeat them so that they do not define us as adults.
In I Corinthians 13:11-13, St. Paul tells us not to be childish, to put away childish ways. This means to put away the dumb things we did as children, the decisions that weren’t thought out, the tantrums, etc. It means to put away the dumb things we did as young adults, again decisions that weren’t thought out.
In Matthew 18:3, Jesus tells us “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Our childhoods were not all bad. There were some very good parts to childhood. One was the ability to forgive easily. Two little kids get into a fight and ten minutes later they are playing together. Another was resiliency. When a little child suffers any loss (such as the loss of a loved one), they rebound faster than adults. Another was innocence. As adults, we have a jaded view of a lot of things. It is easier for a child to see good in people and in the world. And it is easier for a child to embrace Jesus. Finally, children are able to love unconditionally. They trust easily.
We should all be childlike and not childish. We should retain the good parts of our childhood, like innocence, resiliency, and an ability to forgive easily and love unconditionally, while giving up the childish behavior that led us to make bad decisions. As adults, we have hopefully learned from the mistakes of our youth, we understand that things have consequences, we think before we act and we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes.
As children, we understood that God is good. And that was enough for us. As adults, living in a complicated world, struggling with temptations, and even struggling to have faith, we struggle to understand the goodness of God at times. We ask God to forgive the sins of our youth, as well as the sins of our adulthood so that we are not burdened by the guilt of sin but have clean hearts that can embrace God again with the innocence of a child. One cannot feel innocent if one is burdened with guilt.
Holy Unction and Confession are sacraments of healing and reconciliation. Holy Unction focuses on forgiveness, while Confession focuses on repentance. Both are needed. This Fifth Prayer of Holy Unction is encouraging because it reassures us that God will not judge us on the sins of our youth and we don’t have to let how we started to dictate how we finish our life.
In the Scripture quote above, St. Paul ends the passage by looking forward rather than looking backward. He doesn’t focus on how dimly we see in the mirror but how we can see more clearly when we are filled with faith, hope and love. We shouldn’t despair over the sins of youth. Instead, we should focus on faith, hope, and love today.
O Lord, rebuke me not in Your anger, neither chasten me in Your wrath. (Psalm 38:1) Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak. Alleluia.
Remember the sins of youth so that you won’t repeat them. Be assured that God is not focused on how we started but on how we will finish. Set aside guilt from past failings and focus on faith and love today, so that instead of being filled with guilt or despair, you will be filled with hope!