A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Contrition. Repentance. Humility.
Such depressing words.
Who wants to wallow around in self-criticism and sorrow?
Why not think positively instead?
Well…because that’s not what God calls us to, nor does refusal to look at things as they are help us to grow in holiness. While the call to repentance is ongoing, the season of Lent is a time set apart to consider the ways in which our behaviors and thoughts serve to separate us from God. It is a time to turn our lives back again toward God, to take up again the practices that lead us in that direction, and let go the ones that don’t. But most of all, it is a time to recall the great gift that is forgiveness. Jeremiah reminds us that “no one need despair on account of his or her sins, for every penitent sinner is graciously received by God.” Yet repentance is not itself the source of salvation. There is nothing we can do to effect our salvation, for that is a gift from God. There is much we can do to reject it, however, which is the reason for engaging in Lenten practices that will prepare us to accept and act upon it.
The Greek word translated as repentance in the Christian scriptures is “metanoia”, which really means “to think differently after.” Change of mind follows change of behavior, in other words. It isn’t enough to confess your faults and feel sorrow for them, though those actions may be
necessary. Repentance isn’t an isolated act. It is a process, a lifelong task of growing in obedience to God.
So how do you know if you’re headed in the right direction? I find the 3rd chapter of Colossians to be a good guideline. Don’t engage in idolatry, greed, malice, slander, or fury. Watch what you
say. Don’t lie. Don’t exclude anyone. Be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. Put up with each other. Help each other. Forgive each other. Work things out, don’t let them fester, and then get over it. Love. Love. Love everyone and everything.
So in Lent, especially, and all the time really, it’s good to look at your life and see where you’re
falling short of those things. Be sorrowful if that helps you remember to do better. But don’t stop there. Rejoice in the gift of your forgiveness and your salvation, and then get back to the work of love, for in that way peace is found.
(Baya Clare, CSJ is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet and has graciously offered some of her words here on our blog this Lent. This is one of the many beautiful ways that faith is shared and community is created via the internet. Welcome her with gratitude and prayers.)