The Path of Repentance

Many times in our rushed day-to-day existence we have the tendency to rush along, and in moments of grace we lift our eyes to heaven with desire to walk closer with God. It is these moments that our hearts are open to reform our lives.

For those of us who work in pastoral ministries, we encounter souls in these moments. When we do, we can point them on the right path with a little help from Saint John Chrysostom. In his homily, De Diabolo Tentatore (2,6: PG 49, 263-264), he writes:

Would you like me to list also the paths of repentance? They are numerous and quite varied, and all lead to heaven.

A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins: Be the first to admit your sins and you will be justified. For this reason, too, the prophet wrote: I said: I will accuse myself of my sins to the Lord, and you forgave the wickedness of my heart. Therefore, you too should condemn your own sins; that will be enough reason for the Lord to forgive you, for a man who condemns his own sins is slower to commit them again. Rouse your conscience to accuse you within your own house, lest it become your accuser before the judgment seat of the Lord.

That, then, is one very good path of repentance. Another and no less valuable one is to put out of our minds the harm done us by our enemies, in order to master our anger, and to forgive our fellow servants’ sins against us. Then our own sins against the Lord will be forgiven us. Thus you have another way to atone for sin: For if you forgive your debtors, your heavenly Father will forgive you.

Do you want to know of a third path? It consists of prayer that is fervent, careful and comes from the heart.

If you want to hear of a fourth, I will mention almsgiving, whose power is great and far-reaching. If, moreover, a man lives a modest, humble life, that, no less than the other things I have mentioned, takes sin away. Proof of this is the tax-collector who had no good deeds to mention, but offered his humility instead and was relieved of a heavy burden of sins.

Thus I have shown you five paths of repentance: condemnation of your sins, forgiveness of our neighbor’s sins against us, prayer, almsgiving and humility.

Do not be idle, then, but walk daily in all these paths; they are easy, and you cannot plead your poverty. For, though you live out your life amid great need, you can always set aside your wrath, be humble, pray diligently and condemn your own sins; poverty is no hindrance. Poverty is not an obstacle to our carrying out the Lord’s bidding, even when it comes to that path of repentance which involves giving money (almsgiving, I mean). The widow proved that when she put her two mites into the box!

Now that we have learned how to heal these wounds of ours, let us apply the cures. Then, when we have regained genuine health, we can approach the holy table with confidence, go gloriously to meet Christ, the king of glory, and attain the eternal blessings through the grace, mercy and kindness of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Today, let us take courage then, and take up Chrysostom’s path of repentance. In our own walking of this path we may find others on the road who will take up the journey too because of our example.

Have a blessed day.

Related posts:

Confession
Miserere
Why Go to Confession
Stumbling Blocks

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Ever Ancient, Ever New

I am indebted to Saint Augustine for his book, Confessions, detailing the human experience of corruption and conversion; the taming of a soul so to speak. It is a poignant reminder of how God calls us, and by grace changes us by our desire for Him.
 
For this, I look forward each year to his feast day (August 28th) and to read from the office of readings the following quote from Confessions. I hope you do too, and if something strikes you, please share in the comments, thank you:
 
 

 

“Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance into the inmost depth of my soul. I was able to do so because you were my helper. On entering into myself I saw, as it were with the eye of the soul, what was beyond the eye of the soul, beyond my spirit: your immutable light. It was not the ordinary light perceptible to all flesh, nor was it merely something of greater magnitude but still essentially akin, shining more clearly and diffusing itself everywhere by its intensity. No it was something entirely distinct, something altogether different from all these things: and it did not rest above my mind as oil on the surface of water, nor was it above me as Heaven is above the Earth. This light was above me because it has made me; I was below it because I was created by it. He who has come to know the truth knows this light.

O Eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread. I learned that I was in a region unlike yours and far distant from you, and I thought I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men; grow then, and you will feed on me. Nor will you change me into yourself like bodily food, but you will be changed into me.”

I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you. But I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who is above all, God blessed for ever. He was calling me and saying: I am the way of truth, I am the life. He was offering the food which I lacked the strength to take, the food he had mingled with our flesh. For the Word became flesh, that your wisdom, by which you created all things, might provide milk for us children.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

Confessions, Lib. 7, 10, 18; 10, 27: CSEL 33, 157-163, 255

Pruning the Heart

A visitor to our convent stopped to admire our roses that line the path up to the front door. “What beautiful roses!” he said, “How do you keep them so lovely?”

Well, we don’t have time to give them extraordinary care. We water them on a timer and prune them. They seem to do the rest.

As we begin a new liturgical year, and the time of waiting for the Lord in Advent, the theme of pruning has been on my mind. Not of roses, however, but of the heart.

I like to think of God as the gardener, who comes in the right season to prune my heart. He comes to take a critical look at what is growing in me, what needs to be trimmed to encourage more growth, and what is unhealthy and needs to be lopped off altogether.

Here are three lessons I have learned as I allow God to be the ‘Gardener’ of my life.

Lesson One: Pruning is painful.

No matter how gentle the Gardener is, the trimming is painful. We get comfortable with our habits, the way we say and do things. And, although not all of our habits are harmful, even too much of a good thing can become an obstacle to growth in the Lord. And so, the Gardener comes in our prayer this season of Advent wanting to prune away the excess of our lives so to make room for the coming of Christ.

Out of fear, I want to hold some of my branches back, out of the way of the holy pruning hands of God, believing I will not be able to endure the pain of loss. The challenge of this season is to trust, that whatever we give over to God, He will make what is good even more so, and that which is harmful, He will heal us from our dependency. Yes, giving it over to God to be pruned is painful, but in the end, we are better for it.

Lesson Two: The Gardener never prunes without our permission.

Then, what do we do when God wants to prune our heart of something? We know, perhaps, how much the pruning will cost, not fully sure we want to trust the Gardener. He understands us better than we understand ourselves, and will never force us to resign anything to Him. No. He will allow us to hold on to even those things that might be harmful to us because of our free will. But He will come and ask us to let go. He will wait until we are ready to turn our lives over to Him.

Many times in our lives, we go through the externals of doing things because others expect it of us. But are we acting freely in these moments? Are we freely choosing to do the good? God’s asking permission to shape us through the art of pruning the heart, He hopes we will allow it, not just begrudgingly, but wholeheartedly.

Lesson Three: There is no plant too unruly for transformation in God’s garden.

God is patient with us, yes, in His waiting for our readiness to turn our lives over to Him. He is the Gardener who intercedes for the barren fig tree in the orchard, who ‘leaves it for another year…cultivating the ground around it and fertilizing it, that it may bear fruit in the future’ (Luke 13:8). God is equally patient with us, giving us the graces to be fruitful in our lives too.

What is it in your life during this Advent time that, perhaps, God is wanting to transform, to cultivate? Where in your life are you not bearing fruit? How might God be calling you to conversion through His care?

Advent is a beautiful season of the Church calendar. A time of preparing the heart to ‘make room for the Lord at Christmas.’ It is a time for reflecting on the “reasons of the season”, calling us back to examine our relationship with God, which then takes us to consider our relationship with others (these two are forever connected).

We are called by God to turn our hearts over to Him. In our giving permission to transform us, we are telling God, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Always a Way Back to God

I’ve seen this video before, Lifehouse’s Everything Skit, and it always touches a cord in me, so I am sharing it with you (please click picture to watch):

Like all of us, the young woman has life breathed into her by God, created for intimacy with Him. And so starts out our own human existence, innocent and playful, intimate…but somewhere, we fall into various traps: the skit portrays the traps (temptations) of lust, avarice, alchoholism, vanity, depression, despair, which can lead to suicide. The skit was designed to pull at the emotions: the music is hauntingly beautiful, the words could be a love letter from us to our beloved. It is meant to make us question, “what is my ‘Everything’?” and “What are the traps that bind me, keeping me from the One who loves me as I am?”.

One viewer of the skit observed: “The skit itself bothers me as it portrays Jesus at one point as being powerless to intervene. Come on, this is the Second Person of the Trinity, God Himself, and he is powerless to stop what is happening?”

Watching the story unfold, it does seem as though Jesus is powerless, no? One moment He is dancing with his creation, and at some point lust pulls her away from this union; and with it, her created innocence. In real life, this happens, but in much more subtle ways. Most of the time full-blown sin enters the soul by seemingly innocent curiosity… wanting to fit in, or the surrounding culture says tells us a television show or activity isn’t harmful. And by this very curiosity the soul lets down its guard and opens a window that allows something else (fill in the blank) be entertained. In the Gospels when Jesus says ‘one cannot have two masters’ (Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24), this wisdom is applicable to more than money and greed; whenever we make a choice to compromise just a little bit, we open the window just a little wider for something other than God to enter in, and in doing so, we let ourselves walk away from that union with our Creator that we were designed for. Each time we lower our standards, or tell ourselves, ‘just this time’, we create another barrier between us and that perfect union with God. The helplessness portrayed by Jesus, as the girl goes from one temptation to another is the result of the gift of our free will. He has made us free to choose, so in a way, we make Jesus powerless to help us when we choose a lifestyle contrary to His love.

The way back begins with a decision that we need God first and foremost in our lives, but it isn’t a magic trick that corrects itself automatically (although I do not rule out Divine intervention through special grace in some cases – I know this occurs). It requires our determination and will to return, or convert. Convert – the Latin convertere – means, “to turn around, transform”. What we see happening in the skit when the girl throws down the gun and starts trying to get back to Jesus, is this process of conversion taking place. It is a struggle of the will trying to overcome learned behavior – including how her mind and body have learned to respond to stimuli – takes a lot of her own effort. The skit shows her moving back and forth between different indulgences she’s experienced, as they ‘rear their ugly heads’ to again keep her from the One person who will shut them out for good. Just as it takes a soul a long time from that first instant she entertained a small step away from her union with God, so it takes a soul quite a bit of effort to put the acquired vices and sin behind her, and be free. She falls and fails, she gets up and tries again, until eventually, the hold of the old temptations on her life are less and less a threat to her goal – her renewed relationship with God. Seemingly, as in the skit, she has to go at it by herself, but true to scriptural teaching, she’s never alone.

There’s another important aspect conveyed in the skit. As she’s struggling, Jesus seems to be pulling her toward him by an imaginary rope. This pulling effect is the working of grace in our lives. Whenever we are struggling to overcome sin or vice, and call on God to help us, He comes to our aid. Our problems do not miraculously disappear, but there is a hidden resolve or strength that keeps us from giving up. This is grace at work. This is why people who are struggling to overcome addictions and vice need to ask for prayer, and to stay close to the Sacraments. The simplest definition of a Sacrament is ‘an outward sign of an inward grace’. Thus, when we partake in the Sacraments – especially Reconciliation/Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion on a regular basis – we receive spiritual help and support to strengthen us in the daily battle to grow in holiness and continual conversion. Little by little we find the hold of our vices and addictions on our lives less and less, as we slowly reunite ourselves with the One we were created for.

From Punk to Monk

A new reader of my blog, Punk to Monk, has started his own, “reflections on the transition from raucous musician to religious monastic.” Like many young adults, he tells of his wondering away from the faith of his youth, and how God somehow weaseled himself back into his ‘punk’s’ heart. He explains:

“From punk to monk–that is my story.  I was baptized and brought up Catholic but wasn’t really all about practicing it.  My mother, raising me and my brother on her own, made us go to Church and receive our Sacraments.  Because of my lukewarmness toward my faith, I of course fell away when I left for college on the other side of the country.

That’s where I discovered sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  Got me a girlfriend.  Got me into alcohol and other illegal substances.  And, found I could play a pretty mean guitar.”

His story is an uplifting one of youthful angst meeting sober reality of coming of age, and the longing for something more than he was finding. You can read it in full here.

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Let us remember to keep this young man, and others, in our prayers as they discern a life of self-giving through the consecrated life:

Lord God, grant to Your people health of soul and body. Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, may we grow in Your likeness and increase in the humility that marked her life.

Convinced of Your greatness and our lowliness, we ask for many vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. May You be praised in the raising up of these new servants for Your Kingdom.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Late have I Loved You

A question on the Twittosphere today by NoWealthButLife: “What do you think is most romantic line in all of literature?”

Right away to my mind come the words of Saint Augustine from his book, Confessions:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

These words for Augustine are thought after living a life involved with much pleasure seeking, trying like many young people today, to find his happiness in what the society of his day offered. He had a live-in girl friend, he partied, and had a child out of wedlock.  He was educated at some of the finest universities of his day, and was recognized as an intelligent young man. He allowed his ‘wisdom’ to get the best of him, and fell into error of the Manichæans, all the while dismissing the Catholic faith of his childhood as being intellectually lacking.

His quest for truth was confronted in listening to a sermon by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, noting how the bishop reasoned his case for Christ without contradiction. This won the young Augustine to question more deeply the faith of the Christian life under the instruction of Bishop Ambrose.

This pattern is confirmed too in the words of the late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et ratio:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves”

The Confessions is a book in which Saint Augustine describes this process of coming to know himself through reconciling his understanding of God, and how that reconciliation led him to give his life in service to God and His Church. May we today live these words of Saint Augustine, and may we too ‘hunger and thirst for more’, and find ourselves won over by God’s immense love.