Tag Archives: repentance

Lamentation

Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young;
I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.
—Ezekiel 16:60–63

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Matthias Grünewald, Lamentation of Christ (detail) / PD-US

This reading from Ezekiel reminds me of a recent video from Fr. Robert Barron, which is definitely worth a watch: Bishop Barron on Ezekiel and the Sex Abuse Crisis. Ezekiel wrote of the corruption within the holy city of Jerusalem and its cleansing through avengers from the North. Today, the “holy city” of the Church has fallen into corruption, and it too needs to be cleansed, to endure the painful siege of repentance. God will not abandon His covenant with us. But if we are to be cleansed, we must allow Him to show us the weight of our sin; we must be willing to feel our shame and sorrow.

It has been sobering to read reports of the horrific abuse that has occurred within the Church and the deep corruption that kept it hidden for years. As American Catholics, we are mourning over these unthinkable crimes and trying to figure out how we can possibly move forward through this mess.

The Gospel reading prior to this spoke of forgiveness, which may seem untimely at the moment. The Gospel asks us to forgive, but often we don’t understand the meaning of true forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for the person who wronged you or brushing it under the rug. That’s not forgiveness; it’s denial. True forgiveness must acknowledge the sin and yet refuse to feed it. A person who forgives renounces any claim toward revenge and resists the tendency to harbor resentment. It is a daily decision, and it is not an easy one. But it is the only way that we can stop the cycle of sin and open our hearts to mercy. A truly forgiving heart is not indifferent to injustice; it is all the more deeply hurt by it, since it refuses to dehumanize either the victim or the perpetrator. It sees the tragedy of an innocent life altered irrevocably; it sees those individuals who used their God-given will for evil. And it resolves to do better.

I am reminded of the story of St. Maria Goretti and her murderer/attempted rapist, Alessandro Serenelli. Now, this is not a typical story—we should not go around assuming that all murderers and rapists will be reformed by our prayers and can be later welcomed into our families. But it is in fact what happened in the case of Alessandro Serenelli, incredible though it may seem. Though Alessandro was bitterly unrepentant for the first few years after Maria’s death, he experienced a profound conversion of heart after experiencing a vision of Maria in which she forgave him. He was moved to weep for his sins for the first time, and he began the process of true repentance. Due to Maria’s miraculous intercession (again, possible only through the grace of God and not by human means), he was completely reformed and eventually became an adopted son of Maria’s mother.

While Alessandro clung to his pride and callously denied his guilt, the seeds of sin and evil continued to fester within him. Only when he realized the depth of his sin and entered into a living purgatory of shame and regret was his heart opened to receive God’s mercy. This step was crucial: acknowledgment of wrongdoing, grief over what has been tainted and destroyed, ownership of one’s sinfulness. Unless we confront the realities of our sins and face our deepest wounds, we will never be able to receive healing. And Alessandro’s revelation of guilt—and thus his pathway to forgiveness—was made possible because of Maria’s purity and steadfast prayer.

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Alvar Cawén, Pietà / PD-US

As faithful Catholics who are shocked, saddened, and heartbroken over the recent scandals within the heart of our Church, we are called to step up and be the solution, to challenge the Church to rise up to her sacred calling. Now is the time for prayer and fasting. We will expect from the Church a higher standard, and we will start by being saints. The purification of the Church will begin with the purification of our own souls, by a deep desire for holiness and purity throughout every aspect of our lives. Jesus and Mary weep alongside us at these crimes. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion among young, faithful Catholics of the many ways in which we can carry this out, and I’ve compiled a list of resources here.

I stay with the Church because her teachings proclaim the dignity of the human person, even as some of those who represent her have trampled upon human dignity through objectification and abuse. I pray that we allow the light of truth to overcome the darkness, so that everything hidden will be exposed to the light. The truth of our own dignity and worth—and indeed that of our children—must prevail against the shadows.

Originally published at Frassati Reflections.

Will We Listen to John the Baptist?

During Advent and Christmas, I often think of the Holy Family. I look at the poor and homeless in my community in relation to Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Glancing at manger scenes, I contemplate the poverty of the Holy Family, and the impoverished in my community. I ponder their flight into Egypt, and think about refugees, fleeing from persecution. This year, however, I have frequently found myself thinking of someone else.

“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” ~Mt 3:1-2

This passage from Scripture was proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Advent, and we heard John the Baptist urge people to prepare themselves for Christ. Each year, this same message of repentance and preparation from John the Baptist is spoken during Advent. Yet, how often do we really think about this saint and his words?

I often push away thoughts of John the Baptist during Advent, and instead choose to focus on the Holy Family. The image of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a lot cozier than that of an outspoken, blunt prophet who wore clothing made from camel hair and ate locusts! John the Baptist makes us uncomfortable. Yes, his appearance—from a modern standpoint—is rather strange. Even more than that, his message is unsettling to us. John the Baptist reminds us that we actually need to change our lives and hearts as we prepare for Christ. His words cause us to recall that in the mist of our warm and happy preparations for Christmas, our internal, spiritual preparations are most important.

As I look to John the Baptist’s words of wisdom in preparing for Christ, I also have begun to think about how I would react to his words if I lived at the time of Christ. Would I listen to the outspoken, passionate John the Baptist as he called for repentance and later stood up for the sanctity of marriage? Would I listen to John the Baptist as he directed people to Christ?

Of course, I’m not living two thousand years ago, when John the Baptist walked the Earth, so it’s hard to say what my reaction to him would be. However, in our modern world, there are people who—like John the Baptist—call for repentance. People who stand up for the sanctity of marriage. People who proclaim God’s Truth, even when it is unpopular. People who direct others to Christ. Will I hear what they–especially the pope, the Vicar of Christ–have to say? Furthermore, will I listen to John the Baptist’s message, and change my life so I may accept Christ fully?

The Three Falls of Christ

Like Christ, we are condemned to suffer and to die because of sin. He suffers willingly and innocently; we suffer, in the beginning at least, unwillingly and guilty.

If we suffer as unwilling criminals to the end, we will die a criminal’s death. If we learn to suffer willingly as Christ did, and take encouragement from His way, we will suffer and die as He did, with merit and victory, a redeeming death that brings life to ourselves and to others.

If the death of Christ is our victory and example, if His moment of ultimate defeat is our supreme triumph, then His falls, the moments of greatest discouragement on His holy way, should be our encouragement in the face of obstacles.

Christ did not have to fall on the way to Golgotha. He willed to fall in order to teach us. Some mystics number the falls of Christ at seven, each one a reparation for the seven capital vices. The traditional fourteen Stations of the Cross number his falls at three, and it is upon these three falls that I wish to devote this brief meditation.

Consider before we begin the parable of the sower. If we confront the place sin still has in many of our lives, it is easy to look at the parable of the sower and become discouraged, or even to despair. For some of us, we see how from the earliest years of our free choice, in spite of the grace of holy Baptism in our infancy, we have chosen against God. Surely we are the path on which the Word falls and is devoured at once.

Others see their pristine fervor diminished, perhaps after a significant life change or trauma, and have fallen into sinful habits. Are these not the rocky ground?

Still others see how they were led from the path by sinful companions, and have had the grace of God choked out of their souls by bad companions. How can these friends be anything but the thorns that choke the Word?

Few indeed are those souls who can look honestly at their own lives in Christ and find no reason to doubt that they are the good soil.

But the Way of the Cross is our way, as well, and the falls of Christ, if we let them image for us our spiritual stumblings and failures, illuminate this parable and impart unquenchable hope amidst the darkest moments of self-doubt and despair.

Christ falls the first time immediately after He has taken up His Cross. He has barely touched the wood or begun the long walk up the hill when He collapses under its weight. Many of us fall so soon after we commit to taking up our own crosses. Perhaps we fall into the same sin we have just confessed, or fail to persevere in a regimen of prayer just a week or two after we have begun. It is perhaps for us, when we are surprised by the weight of our new crosses, that Christ fell this first time. Christ, on His way to rise from the dead, rises from this initial fall. We, too, are invited to rise with Him once more and follow Him more earnestly, and more cannily, to our resurrection.

It is after this fall that Christ is afforded three comforts on the way to the Cross. First, He meets His Mother. While she is herself immediately our help and our refuge, she also depicts for us those whom we love that God has placed in our lives to help us bear our sufferings. And since Christ could not help Himself carry His Cross, Simon was compelled to carry the Cross with Jesus, so that we might know that crosses were not meant to be carried alone, and so that we would always seek the help of Christ Himself, who is to us as Simon was to Him.

Then, as he walks, Veronica removes her own veil and wipes the sweat and blood from His face. She unveiled a heart overflowing with love and compassion for Christ, and willing to give whatever she could to assist Him.

And yet, immediately after these three comforts and helps, Christ falls once more. How often do we set off eagerly and over-confidently after some moment of great consolation and religious enthusiasm, the seed apparently springing up at once, only to find ourselves so soon in perhaps a worse place than before, its roots not penetrating very deep? How often do we ask for and trust in the help of Christ, only to fall again? Lest we doubt that He does help us, or let our moments of encouragement become occasions for despair, Christ allowed Himself to fall at this point, so that He, rising once more from this fall, might invite all of those who have fallen in their moment of greatest consolation to rise with Him and once more to follow His way.

Finally, Christ meets the weeping women, who do not perceive that He carries this Cross for them. Seeing them, Jesus is saddened. Immediately He falls. But His resolve was not choked off by this pitiful sight. He rises again amidst the thorns and carries on. We too, though we are discouraged by those around us, who cannot understand our sufferings or lend us any aid, are invited to rise.

In the face of these consoling falls of Christ, who, then, is condemned in the parable?

No one but those who refuse to rise again with him, who let themselves become the barren path, the rocky ground, or surrounded by choking weeds.

Any sin can be forgiven except the sin against the Spirit; the sin that denies the power of God to forgive, to quicken, and to restore what has been lost. Christ rises from His falls, just as He rises from death, that we might have hope and faith enough to rise from ours.