Friday, April 4, 2014
The Fullness of Repentance
Based on my parent’s long lives, genetics would seem to indicate that I have many years left on this earth and, I pray, many good things to accomplish. To check if I was ready to face these years, I underwent some medical checks in recent weeks: a stress test for my heart, a check of all those little aches and pains, and a visit to the skin doc to have all those little bumps and lumps checked out. Everything was rated A-OK. And so, as I sat in prayer one evening shortly afterward I had some thoughts about my physical health: “Why am I so blessed with health and long life? Are there things to come which I shall be asked to do?”
And then while waiting for an answer, other thoughts came into my head: “Are there perhaps things of the past which I didn’t do, or didn’t do well and am in need repentance of?” I recalled “the rules” of the sacrament of Penance and I knew that I HAD confessed my sins in the past, so why did this thought about repentance suddenly come to me?
Yes, according to “the rules” of Penance, I did confess my sins, and they were forgiven, and I did resolve not to sin again, but I guess what rattled around in the back of my brain, and which came to the forefront now, were the words of a homily I had recently heard --- but had perhaps not fully grasped. The priest spoke of the fullness of repentance as requiring not only that you confess your sins, but also that you be joined in love to God.
And in the quiet of the chapel, I pondered that …
John the Baptist said: “I baptize you with the waters for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Mt 3:11) John was talking about repentance for breaking the law, the Ten Commandments. But John then says that Jesus will bring something fuller than repentance for breaking the law; He will bring the Holy Spirit.
We see this clearer when Jesus re-states the Ten Commandments for us: “And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The commandments are beyond those things we say and do; the commandments of the New Testament, of the Holy Spirit, are about what we feel: love. The Jews could look at one another’s actions and see: “You are breaking the law; you need to repent.” But Jesus says you break the Holy Spirit’s law when you don’t love. Your actions, your failings to adhere to the Ten Commandments are just results of your failing to heed the Great Commandments: you stopped loving.
And so when we talk about the fullness of repentance, we are talking about not only recognizing what we did or failed to do in regard to the Ten Commandments, we are also talking about our failure to love. The fullness of our forgiveness by God --- and by ourselves --- must not only include a resolve to ACT better within the law, but also to LOVE better. The fullness of repentance includes a resolve to love.
Many a parent has commanded their son: “Go tell your sister you’re sorry you hit her,” and then seen their son slowly walk to his sister, look down at the floor, and say very quietly: “I’m sorry” --- and the parents hope that will keep him from hitting her again for at least ten minutes or so. Your sons obey your laws, but sometimes reluctantly. How much better do those parents feel whose son walks over to his sister, looks her in the eye and says with meaning: “I’m sorry,” and then without prompting hugs her --- and then perhaps both end up smiling and begin to play together.
You can see the difference love makes in a sincere, full repentance. Why is it that we so often forget that, and just go through the motions of repentance, like that of the first son? And what does God feel when we do that, when we just worry about what laws we broke, and not about the God who we hurt? I know with confidence that He offers us the fullness of forgiveness, the return to a loving relationship between us, but do we seek it? Do we fully repent in our confession of the fullness of our sin?
And do we then get the fullness of His forgiveness, if we don’t sincerely seek it? Remember what Jesus said of one sinner: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
I wrote yesterday a reflection on the Gospel miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, and how God expects us to participate in His miracles. He will do the great things, but first we must do the little things. This makes us do the greatest of miracles together; together there is nothing we can’t do.
And so I ask you, is there any greater miracle than this: that a God came to earth to die for the forgiveness of our sins, and to give us eternal life --- if we would do our little part, and love? Oh how I pray that my future confessions may include the fullness of my repentance, not just a resolve to obey the law in the future, but to act in love, to God and neighbor.
Then I shall truly be prepared to face the future, however long I may live.