Repentance

The prodigal son smells

After taking and squandering his inheritance early, his new homeland was struck with famine, and he ended up working with pigs. And in fact, he was treated worse than the pigs.

So, when he comes to his senses and returns to his father, he is very dirty and very smelly. When his father sees him in the distance, he sees first of all just a man covered in pigs muck. Then he recognises him as his son, and everything else becomes secondary.

He runs out to him, and doesn’t think twice about clasping him tight and tenderly kissing him, despite inevitably getting smelly, unclean pigs muck on himself. He takes on his sons filth, and embraces him in it. And his tears, borne of long sorrow and fresh joy, begin to cleanse the son.

And then he orders the best robe to be brought out and put on him. He is clothed in his father’s righteousness, dignity, and glory. He is his father’s son, and all the father has belongs to the son.

No doubt he will be washed first. To put on the father’s robe, he will first be stripped and washed. His shame will be removed, to make way for his glory, that is the glory of his father.

The transformation is striking, from penniless wanderer, reeking of pig, to honoured, celebrated, dignified son. He is a new creation.
God bless you!

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We’re forgiven before we ask

‘Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.’ [Luke 15:11-24]

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Did you notice, that the father actually ignores his son completely? He doesn’t hear a word he’s saying. He doesn’t even let him finish, but starts talking to his slaves.

The father forgives his son, when the son hasn’t even dared to ask forgiveness. And it couldn’t be any other way. We couldn’t ask forgiveness, if we were not already forgiven. We have no right to ask forgiveness, nothing to appeal to. Except that the Father loves us, and rushes out to embrace and forgive us. His grace always comes first.

An excellent prayer of repentance: Say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And then feel the Father put his arms around you and kiss you, tears of joy running down His face.

God bless you

The Sins of Our Fathers

I believe that we are responsible for crimes and sins committed by those who went before us, and also for those done on our behalf by those in authority.

I know this is contrary to our modern ideas of justice, rooted in an individualistic worldview. But that worldview is incomplete.

I am not merely myself, I am also a member of various societies: my family, my school or workplace, my town, my country, and the Church. And each of these societies has a life of its own, living and acting as one, and so, is capable of both obeying and disobeying God. And as far as I remain a member of these societies, I participate in both its merit and guilt.

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This doesn’t mean that I take on all of the guilt of every individual in society. But I do bear the guilt of society acting as a whole, and every association I belong to, even if I wasn’t even alive when its crimes were committed.

What am I to do? How can I be saved from these sins? How can we be saved from them? I must simply repent. Then in me, my society will be repenting, and being brought to repentance member by member. We must repent, do penance, and pray for the salvation of our families, communities, nations and Church, just as we must for ourselves.

I especially think of our national sins, of wars, colonialism, slavery, exploitation, abortion, etc., and of the sins committed by leaders in the Church, especially in the sex abuse scandal. And I believe that actually, this will be crucial to re-evangelising our society.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

P.S. I think it would be especially good in this regard, if on the anniversary of national crimes and sins, we took it as a day of fasting and penance, especially those crimes we are persevering in. For example, the 27th of October and 27th of April for the UK’s abortion act (royal assent and commencement, respectively), and the 20th of March for Iraq war. It would be great if the national bishops conferences could promote this too.

P.P.S. I watched a documentary a while ago about the descendants of prominent Nazis, titled ‘Hitler’s Children’, I think. It showed how they were haunted, even decades later, by the guilt of their parents’ and grandparents’ crimes, with many doing penance by working to prevent such atrocities ever being repeated, and one woman moving to the desert and having herself sterilised. It seems to me, that communal and hereditary guilt is a simple psychological fact, that it would be foolish to deny or dismiss.

God bless you!

‘Ah! My brother, how the goodness of Jesus, His merciful love, are so little known!’

‘It must be that you don’y know me at all well, if you are afraid that a detailed account of your faults could lessen the tenderness I feel for your soul! O my brother, believe me that I shall not need to “put my hand over the mouth of Jesus.” He has forgotten your infidelities long ago. Only your desires for perfection remain to make His heart rejoice. I implore you, don’t drag yourself to His feet ever again. Follow that “first impulse which draws you into His arms.” That is where you belong and I have decided, now more so than from your other letters, that you are forbidden to go to heaven by any other road than the one your poor little sister travels.

‘I completely agree with you that “the heart of God is saddened more by the thousand little indelicacies of His friends than it is by the faults, even the grave ones, which people of the world commit.” But my dear little brother, it seems to me that it is only when his friends, ignoring their continual indelicacies, make a habit out of them and don’t ask forgiveness for them, that Jesus can utter those touching words which the Church puts on his lips in Holy Week: “These wounds you see in the palms of my hands are the ones I received in the house of those who loved me.” For those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into His arms, Jesus trembles with joy. He says to His angels what the father of the prodigal son said to his servants: “Put his best robe on him and put a ring on his finger, and let us rejoice.” Ah! My brother, how the goodness of Jesus, His merciful love, are so little known! It is true that to enjoy these riches we must be humbled and recognise our nothingness, and that is what so many are not will to do. But my little brother, that is not the way you behave, so the way of simple love and confidence is just made to order for you.`

-From a letter from St. Therese of Lisieux to Maurice Belliere, a young seminarian [Taken from Maurice & Therese: The Story of a Love]

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God bless you!

He’s coming

I’ve been feeling pretty adventy (adventurous?) for a few weeks now, so I’m pretty happy it’s now officially advent, and we’re all waiting together.

What I mean is, I’ve been feeling the need for Christ to come lately. There’s so much in the world that just doesn’t make sense, so much sin and meaningless suffering, and it’s been getting to me. I can’t stand it. And so I’ve found myself thinking, when is Jesus coming to sort this out? And thinking about how great it will be when He does.

Advent has confirmed this desire in me, for Christ’s glorious return and judgment, and has also reminded me, that He has already come, and He comes still, and we’re not just passive observers of His coming. I have to do my part. I must prepare the way of the Lord, into my heart, by repentance. And I must welcome Him, recognising His voice, His presence. And I must bear Him to the world with love, magnifying Him and rejoicing in Him.

Repent, welcome, and bear. Repent, clearing away every obstacle, filling in valleys and levelling mountains, so He can march straight in. Welcome, because He’s already here, so we must say our Fiat, let it be done to me, according to Your word, submitting to His will. Bear, carrying  Him with us to the world’s sin and suffering, because He is already with us, and that is what He came for.

To repent is to turn towards Him, to welcome is to listen to Him, to bear Him is to live in love with Him.

And so, by His grace, with our preparation, He comes to us, to our sin and suffering, and makes sense of it by His love, by His life, death and resurrection.

God bless you!

The Gospel of Repentance

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
[Matthew 4:17]

I think when we first hear this, it doesn’t sound very nice. At least, I have a vague memory of thinking this was one of the scary verses. When I used to hear, “kingdom of heaven”, I would think of the end: God burning the world, while the righteous watched on, and heard the cries of the damned for help. And so with this in mind, I thought Jesus was trying to scare people straight, ready for a judgment that wouldn’t come for millennia. I don’t know who’s to blame (apart from myself) for this awful misunderstanding.

I could hardly have been more wrong. This verse is full of hope. This is good news.

The kingdom of heaven is not judgment, and it is not wrath. Where God truly rules, there is no sin, and therefore no judgment, and no wrath. The kingdom of heaven is the rule of love, because God is love. The kingdom of heaven was well and truly at hand, because Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh, was at hand. Heaven and earth came to union, in that flesh where God became man. And he was offering us to have a part in that kingdom. To be truly free: ruled by love, and united with God Himself.

And what was the condition he attached to us joining this Kingdom above all kingdoms? “Repent”. I believe he means by this, that we turn away from the lives that are death, and accept and live by God’s rule of love, with sorrow for ever living by anything else. In this we have our salvation, our life, and our freedom. The kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17:21), and we cannot have it while we reject it, either by our words, deeds, or beliefs. Nor could the rule of God’s love be imposed on anyone who rejects it, because love doesn’t work that way. But if we turn from our deeds of death with sorrow, and live by the one who is life, who gave his life that we might share in it in every way, then we are alive in the kingdom of heaven.

It is true that repentance includes sorrow. To repent, we must have sorrow for our past ways, and therefore be turning from them. But it also includes the far greater hope for the life we turn to. We do not turn out of fear, but its opposite, which is hope. So, in repentance, we have sorrow, and hope for life beyond this sorrow.

Upon the cross, we find our hope, which was won for us through sorrow. Christ shared in our sorrows to the end, and used them to give us hope. All the sorrows we have created by our disobedience, Christ suffered, and, by his obedience, used for our salvation. By suffering the sorrows we made, he shared in our life, but in purity without sin, that we may share in his life, and be pure also. He died our death, that we may live his life.

So, when we repent, we look to the cross. And seeing the holiest deed in all history, we are not condemned, but are loved, because that is what holiness is. There we find life being given to us, and there we find the life we must imitate. There we see Jesus Christ, we see the kingdom of heaven, and we see life itself.

God bless you, thoroughly and completely and absolutely.

Repentance/Penance

Sometimes after I sin, I feel awful. Like, hating life for its futility and constant failure and pain, type-awful. Feeling that pain and suffering are all I deserve, type-awful. Sometimes…

And then there is a part of me, that is hating this, and wants all the good, and righteous and holy things; but also, I am angry that I want these things, and yet sinned, and see that I will probably sin again. I don’t even deserve to repent.

I guess at these times I’m like the prodigal son, feeling unable to ask for full forgiveness. But the father has already decided to accept his son back. And though the son asks to be accepted as just a servant, I don’t think his father ever stopped seeing him as his son.
Even when he was out squandering his father’s wealth, he was still his father’s son. He still had that inside of him, so that he could turn back, even though he had left and forgotten him.
Knowing his guilt, he didn’t even ask for forgiveness. For a criminal to be so bold as to ask that their crimes be forgiven would be offensive. But the father saw in him, that he is his son, and has goodness in him, and offered him full forgiveness and welcomed him home.

God sees us at our worst, and still knows we’re His children, with the divine breath in each of us. And He doesn’t offer us to be His children again, because we always were. Yet in our minds we were not, and must accept once more our Father.
And as we approach Him, He prepares celebrations to welcome us home. At His home we have life, but we must come back.

Asking forgiveness would only worsen our crimes, if God had not invited us to. God has shown Himself repeatedly to delight in mercy, and grace.
God shows us grace because He loves us, and because we are more than what we have become.

That is what I must remember when I have sinned. That in God’s eyes, I am still His child, and He wants to show me grace.

Still, I don’t believe it would be good to proceed this way immediately after sinning. Of course I should repent as soon as possible, but it must be sincere.
I don’t believe the father would be happy if the prodigal son had come back straight after the parties, thinking, “I probably shouldn’t have done that, but oh well, he loves to show me grace so all’s good. Plus he’ll throw a party!” The son is still denying his father, and will continue to go outside the home. He may be back each day, but he’ll return each night.
No. In leaving, he was denying his family, and leaving life. It is necessary for him to realise before he returns that he has denied his father, and is living in a land of death. Then he may return, and accept his loving father, and live at home.

When we repent, we must know our debt, know our death, and know His love. When we repent, we must truly know we are coming home. We must truly be seeking life over death.
This is why I chose to add “/Penance” to the title of this post. This word has a lot of connotations, but I think it is helpful as it suggests deep regret and sorrow for sins.

God bless you.