Like most mornings, I got up today, made some coffee, and then sat down with my breviary to pray the Office of Readings. That's when I noticed that I had forgotten to pray Evening Prayer last night; the ribbons were still set at the end of Sunday Daytime Prayer, Week I.
I know how it happened: At midday yesterday I knew that I would be at the funeral home in the afternoon for a wake, so I saved my Daytime Prayer for then, carrying a breviary along. But the wake went very quickly, and I was in and out in just a few minutes with prayers said and the funeral Mass planned. Once I got home and had the funeral Mass squared away, it was already late in the afternoon, and I still had the Daytime Prayer to offer. So I did, thinking I would then save Evening Prayer for after supper. Not so wise, it turned out, because I never remembered to get back to it.
This sort of thing provides a simple example for a reflection on guilt, negligence, and the locating of culpability in our lives. It is an objectively serious sin for me as a religious and a priest to neglect to offer one of the hinge hours (i.e. Morning and Evening Prayer.) On the other hand, I didn't miss the prayer on purpose, but simply forgot. But this doesn't mean that I am not culpable. The sin, however, lies not in "missing Evening Prayer" but in failing to live a life that is vigilant and mindful enough so that grave obligations are not simply forgotten.
In my experience as a sinner, penitent, and confessor, there are many situations like this in which actual guilt lies not in the sinful act or sinful negligence, but in the failure to organize the rest of one's life in order to avoid occasions of sin and provide occasions of faithfulness. I think this is often true of ingrained habits of sin, particularly around the areas of speech or chastity. The spiritual work called for is not to "stop doing x" but to find the willingness to re-arrange one's life and patterns of thought to reduce the maladaptive function of the sin or to rid oneself of its occasions. For this reason I often invite penitents to 'do a little detective work,' trying to notice when and under what internal and external circumstances stubborn bad habits are likely to materialize. Turning this reflection on myself, I'm reminded that the fatigue and unstructured quietness of Sunday afternoon needs to be an invitation into the mystery of prayer, not an occasion of forgetting who I am and what I have promised.