Repentance is Needed

Latin Mass: 3rd Sunday of Lent
Beloved in Jesus Christ,  
In the 4th century, there lived a young woman named Paesia[i] whose parents had died, leaving her their large home.  For a while she made her home available for the local priests as a place for them to pray and live,  but in the course of time her resources were exhausted.   

Some wicked men came to see her and turned her from the Godly way, and she began to live an evil life to the point of becoming a prostitute.  The fathers, learning of this, were deeply saddened  and so they called John the Dwarf, a holy priest.  To him they said ‘We have learned that this sister is living an evil life. While she could, she gave us charity, so now it is our turn to help her.’   

So abba John went to see her and said to the doorkeeper,  ‘Tell your mistress I am here.’ At first she told him to go away, but he said that he has something that will be very helpful to her.  The old woman went up and told her,  and Paesia said, ‘yes, bring him to me.’   Entering and sitting beside her,  abba John looked into her eyes and said,  ‘What have you got against Jesus?’  When she heard this she became completely rigid,  then abba John began to weep profusely.  ‘Why are you crying father, she asked.  ‘I see Satan playing in your face, how should I not weep?’   Hearing this she said, ‘Father, is it possible to repent?’  He replied, ‘yes.’  ‘Then take me wherever you wish.’   

Without hesitation, she went with him, and when they reached the desert and night was near,  he made a little pillow in the sand and marked it with a cross, saying, ‘Sleep here.’  Then he did the same for himself further on.  That night, he saw a shining path reaching from heaven to her, and angels bearing away her soul.  He saw that she was dead, and then he heard this:  ‘One single hour of true repentance has brought her more than the penances of many others.’   

Friends in Christ, we find ourselves today well into Lent, the season of repentance.  In the modern world, almost no one sees any value in repentance.  There’s no real ‘sense of sin’ at all.  

People DO have ‘regret’ for their sins – the bad consequences, that come from their bad actions.  The politician who gets caught having an affair –  he has regret;  the boy who gets caught stealing from the store –  he has regret.   But repentance is not regret;  regret is self-interest; repentance is sadness for having hurt another, hurt God;  it is a realization and sadness over our sin.  

Ralph the drunk, regrets his drinking, it’s destroying his family.  But regret doesn’t lead to any change.  Repentance is when he realizes the wounds he inflicts on others, and admits he is responsible;  repentance can lead to a reform of life.  

Many times a person goes to confession with terrible guilt over his actions – he regrets them very much.  When they walk out of the confessional,  it is a feeling of happiness, of freedom – and this is true.  Guilt is gone.  But then, perhaps in a few days or a week,  the person falls into the same sin again, what gives? It may be because he is not praying in temptation, or he has no relationship with Christ; but it may be because something is lacking: repentance.   

In the gospel today, Our Lord says, ‘When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through waterless places seeking rest. And not finding, it says, ‘I will go back to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and in order. And then it brings in 7 other spirits worse than itself, and they enter and dwell there.’  

The unclean spirit goes out of the man – and this is like confession.  But notice that even though his house is swept clean – his soul is clean – it is still fertile ground for demons to come back; something more was needed: Repentance.  

A man recently shared with me what happened to him  in Lent of last year.  For years he had a habit of lust, sins of the flesh; he confessed regularly, but often fell back into the same habits. ‘Last year,’ he told me, for some reason he came to the realization of the horror of the sins of his life,  of what he had been.   
He thought of what ‘might have been, ‘ of what kind of person he could have been,  of how many people he led down the path of sin,  and of all the good that he could have done all those years for the Lord, but didn’t.   It seemed that his life had been one long trail of evil –  this is what he had to offer God. Yet he did not despair.  Somewhere he had heard that one drop of the Blood of Christ takes away all these sins; he really felt God’s mercy.  

He told me all this; I was quite moved to hear it. Then he said: ‘Father, in the midst of all this repentance, somehow – it’s as if the demon of my lust was driven out.  I have been largely free of it, not without a struggle,  but now it helps me to remember the sinner that I am.   

Friends, this is repentance.[ii]  The desert fathers used to say: ‘He who sees his own sin,  is greater than someone who raises the dead.’[iii]  

If we are not aware of many failings in our life, it might help to think of about sins of omission, what we failed to do.   How much better of a mother I could have been. Missed opportunities to be a good father, if I had not been so selfish. As a son or daughter, I could have been such a blessing to my family, but I wasted that chance; if I had followed Christ, I could have led so many friends on the right path.   

Friends, we all share in the pain and evil of this world, we are part of it, so we must accept responsibility for it. Father Gerald Vann[iv] says, we must experience the pain of repenting for our share of sin in the world; repentance is a healing and redeeming of the past; It heals us, and the wounds of the world.  

Forgive me my sins O Lord,[v] the sins of my youth, the sins of my age; the sins I know, the sins I do not know, the sins I have concealed so long and which are now hidden from my memory.  O Jesus, forget and forgive, what I have been….  
May the Blessed Virgin pray for us, that we may repent of our sins and encounter the great mercy of Jesus Christ.    

[Entrusted to the prayers of the Venerable Antonieta Meo]

 


[i] Harlots of the Desert, Benedicta Ward, p. 77.

[ii] Repentance in this life is wonderfully meritorious before God; in purgatory facing our sins will bring no merit at all.

[iii] Interior Freedom, Jacques Philippe, p. 100.

[iv] The Divine Pity

[v] from the Act of Contrition by Cardinal Spellman

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