Editor’s note: The following is part of a Lenten series on the topic of repentance. Lent is an ideal time to draw closer to God, turn away from sin and, in the words of St. John the Baptist, repent!
“Repent and believe in the Gospel!” How beautiful are these familiar words with which we begin every Lent! “Repent and believe.” Here we have two words to define our mission during these grace-filled days. What do these words mean to you? What does it mean, really, to repent?
Over the years, I have grown more and more in my love for this daily mission. I love repenting. I love coming to him with tenderness and trust, openly revealing to him the areas where I need his mercy and help. The enemy tells us that what is really necessary is to explain ourselves, to replay the whole thing in our mind, to find new reasons to cling to our justification of our action, or reaction, that sharp word, judgment, defense, etc. What the enemy doesn’t tell us about is the freedom and joy that comes from living in the truth.
“Repent and believe in the Gospel!” There is a reason these two verbs go together: one cannot be without the other. I can only repent, I can only accept my failings, when I believe in his love. Everything hinges on who we know Jesus to be. Every time we repent, we are at the same time making an act of faith in the Lord’s faithful love and his victory over these sins. I can repent because my failing isn’t the end. Truth isn’t just my failing, truth is my failing enveloped in his mercy.
Repenting requires that we are willing to accept truth. This often means to begin by simply acknowledging what is “really cooking” in my heart and sharing that with the Lord in raw honesty. If you wanted to “knock the block off so and so, for saying such and such,” tell Jesus just that. Let it be an honest conversation. Tell the Lord what you feel and why you feel it, but tell it to him, not to yourself.
I am first observing these movements in my heart with Jesus, allowing his love to shed light upon it all. He will show some things that we can’t find or see on our own. Let him do that. Be brave. Don’t move away or choose to get busy with something else. Stay put with him, remain with him. Embrace the silence that holds the truth, wait upon him. If we are willing, Jesus will help us see what part of that is ours and what part belongs to the other.
When Jesus shows us our part, here lies the heroic moment to either maturely say to Jesus, “That is true, thank you,” and then run into his arms and receive the love he has for you, or stoically stand my ground in pride, putting my foot down immovable, alone and still not free. If we listen to him, if we but allow his light to enter our heart, we can always see things differently no matter what, and this produces repentance. When we remain in defense of ourselves, not repenting, we remain without help, without the power of grace that flows from the humble action of acknowledging my wrong and asking forgiveness.
How beautiful is the sacrament of confession? I frequent it often. I deeply love the sacrament of confession and will never tire of encouraging all to frequent this beautiful fount of mercy, joy and grace. I love running into the Father’s arms, receiving the embrace of mercy and the strength that follows from acknowledging my error, my wrong.
In confession, we powerfully choose to live in truth, the truth of my own sinfulness and the truth of his infinite love and power to “restore all things in Christ.” This living in truth before God also strengthens our hearts to live in truth with those around us.
When we receive the Lord’s gaze of mercy, when we “repent and believe in the Gospel,” we are free to live more humbly with those around us. We don’t need to defend ourselves, explain ourselves or justify ourselves. We know ourselves to be loved and thus, though we are never immune from feeling the judgments of others, we are strengthened to look higher. Without repentance, we live in a measured way. “If he does this, then I’ll do that.” “If he owns up to his failing, then I will …”
No, when Christ frees our hearts, we can love without measure. Whatever the other person does or doesn’t do, does or doesn’t understand, sees or doesn’t see, I am free because I love and am loved and I can continue to “move” in this love because nothing holds me back.
The opportunities for repentance are endless in this life. We are human and, on this side of heaven, that means we’re frail. It is ours to choose what to do at each opportunity. The direction we choose in these moments is critical. To stay with truth is to stay with Jesus.
And so, I leave you with one question for us all, including myself: Will we be brave this Lent and choose to live more ardently in the freedom of truth?
Mother Mary Catherine is superior of the Missionaries of the Word religious community based in Baileys Harbor.