Here is a challenge for anyone striving for holiness and conversion this Lent: To rejoice when you repent.
I say it again—rejoice when you repent. Rejoicing and repenting might seem to have as much in common as a Green Bay Packer fan and a Minnesota Viking fan…
nothing! When our sins weigh heavily upon our consciences, repentance appears like a deep dark valley while rejoicing looks like an impossible “mountain” to climb (or an impossible “butte” to climb if you’re a North Dakotan).
Can someone who is so sinful really find a way to both repent and rejoice? Absolutely. In fact, you really cannot have one without the other.
Catholics know that every sin is offensive to Almighty God. The
Catechism of the Catholic Church
tells us that sin is “an offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God.”
Our wrongdoings hurt our relationship with God, who loves us so much. Indeed, every sin we commit hurts the whole human family, the Church and ourselves.
Such burdensome thoughts weigh heavily upon the good conscience of any Catholic who, in turn, desires to receive God’s mercy in the sacrament of confession. With such a burden on one’s conscience and the daunting task of confessing, rejoicing seems impossible.
There is a powerful scene in Roland Joffe’s 1986 movie
where a man has killed his younger brother out of envy and jealousy and, perhaps, lust. A priest comes to hear his confession to no avail; his sins have so captivated the man’s unfortunate soul that there is no joy for him.
The priest insists that there is hope for him, and so the man finally creates for himself an enormous penance. Being a bounty hunter, he decides to carry all his gear up a very steep cliff and there ask forgiveness from the natives he worked to enslave. (Spoiler alert!) After an incredible daunting climb, he arrives and is amazed at the mercy shown him by the natives, who, rather than kill him, cut him free from the load he carried.
The joy in the repentant man’s face is something to see. Amidst such dire repentance, so much rejoicing appears.
The notion that rejoicing and repentance belong together is indisputable. We see it in so many stories from the life of Christ—the woman caught in adultery, St. Peter’s denial of Christ, and the repentant thief on the cross just to name a few.
In the face of sin, Jesus forgives the repentant sinner, and sends them away with immense joy. Above all, Our Lord’s parable of the prodigal son in Chapter 15 of the Gospel of St. Luke stands out as the pinnacle of repentance and rejoicing. Although he has committed so many grievous sins, the younger son repents and returns to his father.
Father Ray Aydt used to say that this story should not be called the story of the prodigal son, but instead the story of the prodigal
. The son was prodigal since he wasted his money, but Fr. Aydt rightly points out that the father was even more prodigal, since he was extravagant in his mercy and in rejoicing. The father sees his son’s repentance and rejoices and instructs everyone to rejoice. We must go to Our Father and do the same!
When we face the cross, when we are called to repent, in the confessional or out, here are some ways we can rejoice. Give thanks to God. Thank Him for His mercy; any little prayer of thanksgiving will do. Be willing to forgive someone who has hurt you in any way. When you forgive, you give proof that your repentance has been transformed into joy. Pray the Magnificat with Our Blessed Mother (Lk. 1:46-55).
Remember, no one can truly rejoice, unless they first repent of their sins, and God always forgives when we repent. Now that is something to always rejoice about. So, we can surely say that true repentance and rejoicing always go together.
Fr. Gardner is parochial vicor of St. Peter in Fort Yates and the Catholic Indian Mission, as well as the satellite parishes in Cannon Ball, Porcupine, Selfridge and Solen.
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