Repent and Believe the Gospel
by friar Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv.
In November 2021, Pope Francis made a private visit to the Poor Clare contemplative nuns in Assisi. Besides asking the sisters for their prayers, he delivered a striking message to them. His message in November serves as a good reflection for the initial days of Lent. “You carry on your shoulders the problems of the Church and also – I dare say – the sins of the Church, our sins, the sins of the bishops, we are all sinful bishops; the sins of the priests, the sins of consecrated souls… And bring them before the Lord.”
None of us is free from sin! We make choices that are contrary to the goodness of creation or the natural bond that unites us, as human beings, to one another. We even deny our own goodness, or the goodness of another. We fail to remember that all of us are created in the image of God. Sometimes we overfocus on ourselves or create false images of ourselves. Like the people of Israel, we too become attached to the false gods that surround us.
As this holy season begins, we hear the familiar cry: Repent! Repent is the first call of John the Baptist, in the first line of the Gospel of Mark. Repentance is a call to travel a road different from the ways/values of the world. It is a call to turn to God! For those to be baptized, it is a call to enter into the company of a new people chosen by God to be priests, prophets, and kings. For those of us already baptized, repentance is a call to examine our fidelity to this baptismal commitment, to reflect on our lives and to make changes in our attitudes and lifestyle. Ongoing conversion is the vocation and mission of the whole Church. Repentance is continued purification, in view of more genuine participation in the “Good News” of the Easter Passover. Thus, Lent is not so much about finding an individualistic private “practice” or “penance,” although such practices have merit, but it is more about opening our hearts to the divine life or the grace that God seeks to give us. Prayer is primary in this process. St. Augustine, in a Lenten Sermon reminds his flock: “By almsgiving and fasting we add wings of fervor to our prayer so that they may more easily fly up and reach God.” Clearly, in St. Augustine’s view, almsgiving (great hearted generosity) and fasting (above all to let go of every sin) open our hearts and lift them in prayer.
Without these three traditional Lenten dispositions (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) essential for repentance or conversion, our hearts remain closed, but also our ears. As St. Francis would say: We remain deaf hearers of the Gospel. Too many other voices contrary to the Gospel overwhelm us and we miss the voice of the Holy Spirit which speaks to us in our inspired sacred texts, especially in the Gospels where Christ speaks directly to us. Without ongoing repentance, we are deaf, we cannot “hear” the Gospel, the core of which proclaims the Easter mystery: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This Gospel proclamation opens for us the way to be with the Risen Lord “seated at the right hand of the Father.”
May our Lenten repentance open the way to Easter joy!