In Luke 24:47, we read that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in the Name of Jesus to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. As we renew our commitment to spread the Gospel to all nations, it is rather important to remember that repentance is essential for the fruition of the New Evangelization in our world. Blessed John Paul II stressed this fact, when he declared the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary to be "The Proclamation of the Kingdom with Its Call to Repentance".
Sadly, due to the distortion of perspective caused by sin in our human condition, repentance is often viewed in rather negative terms. It is seen as an occasional discipline that must be embraced periodically in our spiritual lives. The truth of the matter, though, is that repentance is the only way to life in Christ Jesus. It is not merely an occasional event in our lives, but a crucial ongoing discipline required in order to fully share in the transformative mystery of Christ.
In order to appreciate this reality, it is worth noting that the foundation of all repentance is hospitality. We see this revealed to us in Genesis 3. While we are inclined to focus our attention on the Original Sin of our first parents, we need to recognize their even more serious second sin. When God, who is pure, perfect and gracious mercy, appeared in the Garden of Eden after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, they hid from Him. It is reminiscent of the tendency of some people to pretend they are not home when unwanted visitors arrive.
Thus, when they denied the hospitality of sincere repentance to Mercy Himself, they were compounding their Original Sin of doubting God's graciousness with a second sin of denying His graciousness. Instead of offering Him hospitality by contritely welcoming His Mercy, they chose to deny His Mercy access to their souls. And they even compounded this sin by a third sin of seeking to find justification in the alienation of excuses and resentments.
Sad to say, this temptation to seek salvation through excuses and resentments persists to this very day. It leads to a deepening sense of alienation and guilt, which in turn hardens hearts even more from any willingness to offer the hospitality of true repentance to God's Mercy, which is compassionate beyond comprehension and beyond all manipulation. Thus it is that the spiritual transformation required for true repentance can only be realized through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit.
By this ministry, the Spirit convicts the soul of a basic truth of the spiritual life. This truth is the fidelity of God to His Word. His original Word of commitment was to form us, in all dimensions of our shared humanity, in His image and likeness. Even when we fell into sin, His fidelity to His consecration to bring His Word to fruition continued through the various events and dynamics of salvation history. This was ultimately brought to fruition through the Incarnation of His Word, Who is Jesus Christ, and through the Redemption brought to fruition by His Sacrifice on the Cross. This points out a central dimension of the Gospel Proclamation - what God, in His gracious and compassionate love, says about us and our true dignity through Christ is Truth itself, while what sin says about us comes from the Father of Lies.
Thus it was that the only way that God's Truth could overcome the Father of Lies was to show us, whose faith was so weak and disoriented, in a dramatically tangible way, His superabundant fidelity and mercy. Since sin had so seriously crippled our ability to believe that the transformative graciousness of God's love was far greater than the perverting and disfiguring power of sin, our faith had to be strengthened in a profoundly traumatic way. In the excruciating agony of crucifixion, Jesus faithfully showed that God's Mercy was indeed greater and more transformative than all the power of sin. In the Paschal Mystery, He even went so far as to transform the greatest sin ever committed, the sacrilegious and sadistic murder of God's Own Son, into a fountain of gracious mercy beyond comprehension. Thus it is that He died on the cross not to appease the wrath of His Father, but rather to please His Father by dramatically manifesting to us, whose faith had been so seriously infected and weakened by the cynicism of sin, that the hospitality of God's gracious fidelity is always greater the hostility and alienation brought about by the disfiguring perversity of sin.
Furthermore, the love of the Father was so great that Jesus even went beyond death into a glorious Resurrection, through which He offered peace to those who had denied and abandoned Him. Then He went a step further by infusing them with His Holy Spirit, so that faith could cure the blindness and stubbornness, with which sin had infected their perspectives and attitudes. As an aside here, it is worth noting that He gave His Apostles the power to forgive sins precisely when they were most keenly aware of how they had failed Him in His hour of need. Likewise, it should be noted here that, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what the penitent is actually confessing is his/her reaffirmation of the conviction that God's mercy is greater than even his/her worst sins. Thus a deliberate refusal to confess a specific serious sin indicates that the penitent does not really believe that God's mercy is greater than his/her sin. Such a refusal thus rejects the truth that God is faithful to His Word of gracious mercy and compassion. It asserts that the final word about his/her soul comes from the Father of Lies, not from the God of Truth.
Appreciating repentance as an important dimension of hospitality leads us to see more clearly the true nature of evangelization. In order to be true to her calling, the and each of her members are called to share ever more deeply in both the mystery and the ministry of ongoing repentance. Not content to have a salvation that is alienated from the rest of humanity, her fidelity to Christ demands that she, and each of her members, be conscientiously invested into that hospitality, which is made most spiritually efficacious by a life of ongoing repentance. Since such hospitality often involves a willingness to love beyond our immediate ability (cf., Lk 11:5-8), we need to be ever-vigilant to avoid any form of self-sufficiency, and realize that our only true sufficiency is to be found in our ongoing openness to the participate in the dynamic of transformative love and hospitality offered to us by Christ Himself, through His Mystical Body and through all those He is inviting and welcoming to share in the wondrous beauty of His merciful love. As the Church Fathers were wont to say, whatever is not shared is not redeemed. We can only be faithful to the gracious life given to us through Baptism by sharing that life with others - and by gratefully and graciously allowing them to minister God's gracious mercy to us. Where sin has brought hostility, Christ's gracious mercy brings a hospitality beyond comprehension.
In view of this, there can be no boasting on the part of any of us, but only a reverent gratitude for the privilege of being able to share ever more deeply in this ever-transcendent and ever-transformative mystery of divine graciousness. And this gratitude draws us to enter more deeply into those ministries inspired by the Holy Spirit, whereby humanity is formed more perfectly as one body and one spirit in Christ.
Spero columnist Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest who serves the people of the state of Virginia.
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