I Didn't Do It!
When my husband was a kid, his younger brother John used to get him in trouble. He would say, "Tommy's hitting me!" even when he wasn’t. Tom would defend himself saying, "I didn't do it!" But he would still be punished because his parents believed John. Until one day when Tom was in the kitchen with his dad and John yelled from the other room, "Tommy, stop hitting me!" His dad looked at Tommy and knew he didn't do it. Someone else got punished that day.
The phrase, "I didn't do it" sometimes refers to being falsely accused. Other times it is said by a child who has obviously been in the cookie jar but denies it. Of course, their face is covered in chocolate, so that kind of gives them away.
There is another time when we might say or think, "I didn't do it." It's when we are called by God or by obedience to do something but don't respond to that call. Jesus tells the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21. The father asks his sons to do something. One son says he won’t do it but he actually does. The other says he will do it but does not.
If we don’t follow through on what we are supposed to do, we are committing a sin of omission.
We say a prayer at every Mass called the Confiteor. In it we acknowledge our sins by saying: "I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned. In my thoughts and in my words; in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do."
That last phrase refers to sins of omission. There are sins of commission – the things we do that are wrong or against God's law. The sins of omission are the things we did not do but should have done. Think about Lazarus, the rich man Jesus describes in Luke 19 (not the one raised from the dead). Lazarus passed a beggar every day and ignored him, but lived in luxury and wasted what could have been given to the poor. His was a sin of omission.
It might be easier to see our sins of commission than of omission. I know when I lie or steal or gossip. Those are pretty obvious to me and probably to others as well. What we fail to do is often less obvious and sometimes more frequent than the sins of commission. Lazarus went to the abyss because of what he failed to do.
Consider these ways that we may fail to do what God commands:
Ignoring the poor. There was a time I used to travel a lot. Once while returning from a trip, I was walking through the airport and noticed a beggar coming toward me to ask for something. I ignored him and kept on walking. When I got to my car, I realized I was wrong. I could have given him something, or if I didn't have anything to give, I could have acknowledged him or even stopped and asked if I could pray with him. Ignoring him was a sin of omission.
Silence. If I am silent when I should speak, that is a sin of omission. For example, if someone misrepresents a teaching of the Catholic Church and I am in a position to correct them but choose not to, my silence is a sin of omission. If I am with people who gossip about a mutual friend and I say nothing in her defense, my silence is sin of omission. If I hit another car in the parking lot and keep silent because nobody saw it, my silence is a sin of omission.
Avoidance. There are people in our lives who are not easy to be around. Maybe they talk too much or have personal habits we don't like or are not the "cool people." What if that person is lonely and needs someone to listen? And what if God chose you as that someone? When you avoid them, it's a sin of omission.
Failure to correct. Scripture tells us to correct a brother or sister. In Ezekiel 3:18, God says, "If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, … that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand." If you know someone is following a path to Hell and don't warn him, either out of misplaced compassion or fear of his rejection, that is a sin of omission. We don't have to be ugly about our correction, nor should we, but we owe it to them out of love to warn them. We might simply say, "This is bad for your soul."
Lack of service. How often have we been invited to help out at church or take a leadership role in a ministry and declined? My "no" can be prayerfully discerned, because sometimes we are not called to a particular ministry, or it can be a habitual reaction to any request. If I just don't want to get involved, even when I have the time and God may be calling me there, when I say no, that's a sin of omission. Who knows what graces might have flowed from that gift of service.
Waiting for the other. Sometimes we have conflicts with others in our life. If I have a disagreement with my husband and stubbornly wait for him to come begging for reconciliation, that can be a sin of omission. Can I apologize for my part? Can I make the first move? Can I be the first to ask for healing? When I wait for the other person, it's my pride driving that response. How many marriages have fallen apart because neither person was willing to be the first to say, "I'm sorry?" If I have a broken relationship, my resistance to healing may be a sin of omission.
What is it that leads us to sins of omission – those times when we don't do what we have been called to do?
Sometimes it's fear. Fear of rejection: If I do this, someone won't like me. Fear of failure: It might not work out and then I'll look foolish or be hurt. Fear of expectations: They might ask more than I am willing to give.
Sometimes it's egotism. I want things my way. I don't feel like doing it. It's not my job – let somebody else. I don't like them and that's all that matters.
There are other possible reasons, and getting to the root of those reasons is critical if we want to commit fewer sins of omission. It's a good practice to do a daily Examen of your sins of omission. What did you fail to do today and why? Ask God to help you see the obstacles that arose that day that kept you from saying "yes" to His will. Those obstacles are placed there by the enemy – his weapons in the spiritual battle. As you grow in self-knowledge, you will be better able to overcome those obstacles and grow in holiness. That is always our goal.
Questions for prayer:
What are your most frequent sins of omission? Have they changed over time or is there a pattern?
Why is the enemy successful in tempting you to these sins of omission? How can you resist his efforts?