In his book How the Light Gets In, the late poet and essayist Brian Doyle reflects on “the one sweet thing about being Catholic”: Confession, asking for and receiving forgiveness. But, Doyle learned, the “crucial part” of the sacrament comes “after you leave the church.” Doyle writes:
“ . . . You walk
To the river and while you are pretending to watch for herons
You envision each person against whose holiness you did sin,
And to each you apologize, and ask for forgiveness. Some of
Them are long gone from this world but not from the Infinite
Mercy who remembers all levels and forgets not a sparrow.
You are absolved not when a man says so but when you have
Asked, with every fibre of your being, to be forgiven, to walk
Home clean, to start again, to be possible. What we really ask
For in the sacrament of reconciliation is to be a question mark
Again, to be verb, to be not what we did but what we might
Yet be able to do; a map of the unknown, an unfinished song.”
When Jesus calls us to “repent,” he’s not calling us to cease and desist; he’s not calling us out for our sins and failures. “Repentance” is a call to change, to look at our lives and our world in a new light, to become the person of hope and faith we seek to be.
The Eastern Orthodox theologian Kallistos Ware writes that, correctly understood, repentance “means, not self-pity or remorse, but conversion, the re-centring of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look, not backward with regret, but forward with hope — not downwards at our own shortcomings, but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light. In this sense, repentance is not just a single act, an initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life.”
Our weary souls desperately seek transformation, newness, change. The Gospel Jesus comes with the “good news” that our God loves us like a father loves his children, that God seeks not our humiliation but our reconciliation with him. Jesus is the Messiah who establishes the reign of God through forgiveness, reconciliation and selfless charity – in Jesus, the time for hope in God’s justice and forgiveness has come. Jesus calls us to “abandon” our “nets” of self-centeredness, fear and despair and walk with him to become “fishers” of the life and love of God.
May we respond positively to this invitation in the coming week.