Christ began His preaching ministry, saying “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
For us to repent, we first have to understand what repentance really is; misunderstanding what it is is also a hindrance in itself, because it keeps us from true repentance. What is true repentance, and what does it do for us? It removes barriers caused by our own sinfulness. It also removes barriers caused by those times that we have been hurt by other people, times that we might have trouble letting go of and forgiving. These sins and hurts hinder us from becoming closer to Christ. Christ calls us to repentance so that He can heal us.
Some common misconceptions about repentance:
1) Some people think that it is to feel terrible about yourself. They think that repentance is sincere only when you despise yourself for being a hopeless sinner. But Jesus didn’t tell us to hate ourselves. We’re supposed to hate the sin, not the sinner.
2) Repentance that comes of being found out is not true repentance. For example, if you cheated on an exam and you got caught, you’d be sorry about it, but only because you got caught. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have given it another thought. Many of the sins that we commit aren’t known to anyone but ourselves and God. Just because they haven’t been exposed doesn’t mean that they’re ok. These secret sins are hardest to repent of, because they are hidden, but they are also the ones that we need to get rid of the most.
3) Repentance is not the ability to rid ourselves completely of sin. That will not happen because we are not perfect beings. If we could be perfect, we wouldn’t need God.
That misconception is the reason why some Catholics don’t go to Confession. We might say to ourselves, “Why go to confession when I know I’m just going to sin again?” but this is wrong. When we go to Confession, we are not only being forgiven, we also receive the grace needed to resist that temptation, because it will probably come again. This grace is a free gift from God, but we have first to desire, seek, and accept it.
So what is true repentance? Well, for one thing, it is not merely feeling sorry for one’s sins. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word for “repentance” is “metanoia,” which literally means “change of mind.” So it’s not just a feeling, it’s an act of the will. It’s deciding to turn away from sin and turn back to God. Sometimes we find it hard to repent because we think it’s all our responsibility. We need to remember that repentance is not all about us. Lots of prayer is needed here. We need God’s help and Mama Mary’s help. We need the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and to change our hearts so that we can have true repentance.
There are four “H’s” that we can use to remind us of the attitudes we ought to take in repenting. They are:
1) Honesty. We need to call the sin a sin, meaning no ridiculous excuses like, “Sin is a growth experience,” or “Cheating during exams is just sharing.”
2) Humility. We need to admit that we sinned because we are weak, and that we need God to overcome those sins.
3) Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner. Again, we’re not supposed to hate ourselves. It’s the sin that we’re supposed to hate because we’ve let ourselves become slaves to it. But Jesus made it possible for us to say “no” to sin, so if we truly hate the sin, we’ll stay away from it. Furthermore, we won’t make any excuses such as, “I am just human,” or try to put the blame on someone else. We can’t go putting the blame on the devil and expect to be OK, precisely because Jesus gave us the power to resist temptation.
4) Have a Good Confession. Going to confession enables you to be humble. You’re bringing yourself to God, saying that you’ve done wrong, acknowledging that you need help, and sincerely asking for it. Besides receiving the grace to avoid in future the sins you have confessed, you also get good advice from the priest who heard your confession. We also need to forgive ourselves. To not do so is putting ourselves higher than God, almost like saying, “God, You can forgive me, but I can’t.” like we know better than Him. It’s a sin of pride.
When we come to the Lord in repentance, we need to have Faith that He will forgive us and give us the strength we need to follow him. We should find peace in the knowledge that Jesus has conquered death and the prince of darkness by giving us the means to reach Heaven, through our coming to Him for healing and forgiveness. For our Faith to continue and to grow, we have to make giving our whole selves to Christ our first priority goal.
Faith is believing in what God says, but more than that, it is entrusting every aspect of our lives to God and His promises. When Christ told Peter that he could walk on the water, he trusted in Christ and believed that the Divine would make it possible, in spite of what his mind and his body was telling him. In the same way, when Christ promises that He will save us from our sins, we should believe that He can, and that He will. Faith, like repentance, is not just a feeling. Faith is a decision to trust in Christ. Repentance is a decision to turn away from sin. Peter felt fear. But he made the decision to trust in Christ. And that is what Faith is.
Luke 11:9 – 11
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
We respond to God’s love by first acknowledging our sinfulness, repenting, and then in faith, asking for His forgiveness. We also ask Him to heal us, because the hurts that are caused by our sins and the sins of others keep us from receiving God’s grace in its fullness. Healing cannot be complete if we ask for forgiveness but fail to forgive those who have hurt us. It’s hard, I know, and sometimes, I think it’s even harder to forgive than it is to be the one to say sorry.
Hurts caused by our family and friends can really get in the way of our drawing nearer to the Lord. There is a saying that we wound most deeply those we love best. If this is the case, then we should forgive them the most as well.
Healing occurs a) when we forgive someone, b) when we ask someone to forgive us, c) when we come to God and ask Him to heal us, and d) when we serve others. When we focus on helping others, we not only help them heal the hurts in their lives, we also heal our own. That’s not to say we disregard our hurts; we do need to recognize them so that we can seek healing. But we shouldn’t let ourselves get so bogged down in them that we become insensitive to the suffering of those around us.
God wants us to experience the fullness of life in His love, by knowing Him. However, our sins and hurts keep us from receiving His blessings in their fullness. Christ wants to remove these hindrances and to extend His mercy towards us; we have to do our part and repent from our sins, believe that He will forgive, strengthen, and heal us. Only then will we be fully open to receiving His Spirit which will strengthen us further and enable us to live our lives as truly pleasing to God.