Lent is a great time for some R & R, Repentance and Reconciliation. As I began to read Archbishop Sartain’s A Lenten Pilgrimage, I was drawn in from the beginning as he describes the Orthodox monastic practice of reading The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus. I have never read the work myself but heard of it as one of the essential classics on the spiritual life. The definition St. John gives us for repentance is one that will stick with me as it has with Archbishop Sartain: “Repentance is the renewal of baptism and a contract with God for a fresh start in life…[It] is the daughter of hope and the refusal to despair.” This is a great definition for repentance as it is not easy, but it is in hope that we do it. If we give in to the enemy and his lies that say: it’s not worth it, it will hurt too much to bring it back up, it isn’t that big of a deal, it doesn’t matter if you go to confession anyway, etc., then we are giving into the despair that repentance refuses and conquers. Every time we go to confession, we have the opportunity to renew our baptism. The sanctifying grace that was poured out for us at the baptismal font to wash us clean from original sin is once again poured out on us and the grace of our baptism is stirred up in our hearts so that we can grow as children of God and come to know more and more, each and every time, who God is calling us to be. Each encounter with Jesus in the confessional has great potential and the ability to make us more aware of His grace and inspiration to live and love as He is calling us to as His beloved children and so be authentic and bold witnesses of hope because of our faith in Him and the love that He has for us. This is what Pope Francis reflected upon last Sunday at the Angelus and I share with you his words below.
In this time of Lent we are preparing for the celebration of Easter, when we will renew the promises of our Baptism. Let us travel in the world as Jesus did, and let us make our whole existence a sign of our love for our brothers, especially the weakest and poorest, let us build for God a temple of our lives. And so we make it “encounterable” for those who we find along our journey. If we are witnesses of this living Christ, so many people will encounter Jesus in us, in our witness. But, we ask – and each one of us can ask ourselves – does the Lord feel at home in my life? Do we allow Him to “cleanse” our hearts and to drive out the idols, those attitudes of cupidity, jealousy, worldliness, envy, hatred, those habits of gossiping and tearing down others. Do I allow Him to cleanse all the behaviours that are against God, against our neighbour, and against ourselves, as we heard today in the first Reading? Each one can answer for himself, in the silence of his heart: “Do I allow Jesus to make my heart a little cleaner?” “Oh Father, I fear the rod!” But Jesus never strikes. Jesus cleanses with tenderness, with mercy, with love. Mercy is the His way of cleansing. Let us, each of us, let us allow the Lord to enter with His mercy – not with the whip, no, with His mercy – to cleanse our hearts. The whip of Jesus with us is His mercy. Let us open to Him the gates so that He would make us a little cleaner.
Every Eucharist that we celebrate with faith makes us grow as a living temple of the Lord, thanks to the communion with His crucified and risen Body. Jesus recognizes that which is in each of us, and knows well our most ardent desires: that of being inhabited by Him, only by Him. Let us allow Him to enter into our lives, into our families, into our hearts. May Mary most holy, the privileged dwelling place of the Son of God, accompany us and sustain us on the Lenten journey, so that we might be able to rediscover the beauty of the encounter with Christ, the only One Who frees us and saves us.
Pope Francis Angelus Address 8 March 2015
As we are now on the home stretch to Easter, I encourage you to come and experience the Mercy of God in the confessional and get your hearts ready to celebrate with “the joy of minds made pure” (Preface of Lent I) the great day of our salvation.
Fr. Jack D. Shrum