Ash Wednesday: A Reflection on Repentance
For “repentance”, we need to review the parable of the Prodigal Son in Lk 15. “v.18: I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. v.19: I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.’ v. 20: So he got up and went to his father.” Watch the elements of repentance.
- Conviction of sin: “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” This is the first requisite of repentance. There was a man who had relations with the house help while the wife was away in out-of-town assignment. The maid became proud of it and in a quarrel with her landlady blurted out that the husband loves her more than the wife, because the wife cannot give him children. When the wife confronted the husband, he denied it. The wife discovered other evidences but the husband kept denying. Finally the wife discovered the diary of the maid and showed it to her husband. Only then did the husband say: “I’m sorry.” Is this repentance? NO! He said “I’m sorry”, not because he offended God, but because he was caught. To repent means that I acknowledge that I have offended God; that I have sinned, not because I was caught. Jn 16:8 says: “When he (the Spirit of truth) comes he will convict the world of sin.” When I do not have conviction of sin, then I do not have the Holy Spirit.
- Repentance: “I no longer deserve to be called your son,” because I have offended, “treat me as you treat one of your hired workers,” that is repentance. I have sinned, I deserve punishment. I do not only say “I’m sorry”; I am ready for what I deserve.
- Conversion: “So he got up and went to his father.” Conversion means turning away from sin and turning towards God; leaving behind the situation of sin and taking steps to return to the Father to live a new life.
Looking back to what caused his conviction of sin, it was hunger and feeling dirty among the swine. God uses external discomfort and even physical pain to bring us to our senses. Looking at the attitude of the Father, we are convinced of the truth that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7). And God restores me to my status as son: “Quickly, bring the finest robe (of grace) and put it on him; put a ring (seal) on his finger and sandals on his feet” (capacity to walk the stairway to heaven).
True repentance will lead us to confession. It cannot be denied that many of us still miss the true meaning of, and the devotion to, confession. I heard some say, “I have not gone to confession for five years because I have no serious sin to confess.” Well, the fact that you have not confessed in one Lenten season, you already have a serious sin to confess. Confession should not remain an obligation; it should become a devotion. St. Teresa of Avila, during the last two years of her life, went to confession every day. The higher she climbed in holiness, the clearer her consciousness of God’s holiness as against her lowliness as a creature. I call it “a bath for the soul.” If I take shower every day to keep my body clean, should my soul not have a regular shower? If I eat three times a day to keep healthy, should not my soul be nourished daily to remain healthy?
If I go to the tribunal and narrate all my crimes, what happens to me? I get indicted, convicted. The more crimes I tell, the greater my penalty. But if I go to the confessional and narrate all my sins, I will be acquitted. Many of us hesitate to go to confession, maybe because we want to be indicted and be convicted before Christ the King. Let us be reminded that the Sacrament of Confession is only for this earthly existence; after this, there is no chance for repentance. Therefore, let us be acquitted now while still on earth, and be made clean of any stain or any weight of sin before we end this existence. “Seek the Lord that you may live” (Amos 5:6). “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving” (Is 55:6-7). “I have brushed away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like a mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Is 44:22). “It is I who wipe away your offenses; your sins I remember no more” (Is 43:25). “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statues, careful to observe my decrees” (Ez 36:25-27). “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine… For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior… Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you… Fear not for I am with you” (Is 43: 1, 3-5).
God is always a forgiving Father. Are we, humans, capable of, and willing to, forgive?
Let us look deeper. At the tribunal, I get indictment or conviction. The human court throws me into prison and holds me in my past sins. It cuts me off from a future and I have no chance to improve myself to become a better person. Similarly, when I do not forgive my spouse and decide for a separation, I cut off the future of my family. I condemn all of us to be imprisoned in our past sins and we all suffer the consequences. A son of sixteen has become addicted to drugs and stole the jewelries of his mother and sold them to pay for his drugs. The father discovered it and in his anger banished him: “Wala akong anak na magnanakaw. Alis sa aking pamamahay.” This father keeps his son in his past sins and cuts off the future. What will become of him since he has no experience in life?
Let us look into the confessional. I tell all my sins and I get acquitted. I come out relieved and strong, facing the future with hope. Why? Because I hear the Lord say, “Get up, try again, I will help you.” Isaiah is insistent on this. “Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice” (Is 41:10). “For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’…I will help you, says the Lord; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (Is 41:13-14). The sacramental grace of confession empowers me to begin a better future. It does not condemn me to my past sins, but promises a bright future in the life of grace. I can move on and work it out to become a better (and holier) person. The Lord keeps his promise: “I will be with you,” and “I will help you.” In the confessional we ask God for forgiveness and he readily grants us pardon and even gives us the grace to grow in holiness. What if my enemy comes to me and ask for forgiveness from me? The human being needs to be forgiven by God many times a day. Jesus readily granted forgiveness to Zachaeus, to the sinful woman, to the thief dying with him on the cross. Do I readily forgive those who have offended me? (I knew of a woman who had an only daughter –the eldest followed by three boys. One day the two had argumentation where the mother became so very angry and said: “Pag-asawa mo hindi ka magkaka-anak.” I officiated at the wedding of this young lady for she and her husband were members of our parish youth organization. Five years passed, still they had no baby. I approached the mother and asked her to lift the curse. She blew her top at me and said: “Kinakampihan mo pa sila!” I felt sorry for her.) We pray many times, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Yet unforgiveness happens to be the most frequent case in our life. Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost are the celebration of God’s love and forgiveness coming down to us. Now is the time to seek God’s forgiveness and to give out forgiveness to others. By continuously forgiving us, God gives us chances to grow in holiness. By forgiving others, be become more like our forgiving God. Then our repentance is real.