Thursday, October 05, 2006

Holy Lent, Holy Repentance – A Season of Joy

(Originially written in late February 2006)

Roman Rite Catholics begin their annual Lenten Journey to Easter with Ash Wednesday. For Byzantine Rite Catholics, Lent begins two days earlier on “Clean Monday.” In both traditions, Lent is a season marked by penitence and special devotions. Significant spiritual acts indicate its great importance in Christian life.

The theme of Lent is repentance, and various practices and devotions emphasize this theme. In the West, the weekly Stations of the Cross features prominently, while in the East, the great Akathist Hymn is chanted every Friday. Throughout Lent, the Church calls us again and again to repentance.

Yet some hesitate. In our sophisticated world, many have mistakenly come to believe that repentance is little more than a superstitious relic of the past. To them, the Sacrament of Reconciliation seems repressive. The very idea of penance seems an alien masochistic practice to our modern ‘feel good’ culture.

How short sighted they are! Lent is not a maudlin time of sorrow and despair. Of course, there is contrition for sins, but Lenten repentance is also an act of joyous renewal. God’s Great Mercy beckons to us, and through repentance we turn back to receive His generous forgiveness. We come to recognize that even as we are in complete need of God’s mercy, in His Great Love for us He is always ready to accept our repentance and lead us to holiness. Every practice and custom of Lent becomes an occasion to inspire us to that repentance that is both joyful and life-giving.

The Church teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Holy Confession) must be received at least once a year, and that during Lent. From what has been said above, it is easy to see why. The seasonal practices and devotions associated with Great Lent are especially suited to assist us as we approach the Sacrament of forgiveness.

In a world overwrought with anxiety and neuroses, self-doubt, self-pity, and self-righteousness, Reconciliation has the spiritual power to heal us from sin. It reopens the doors to life filled with Divine Love. More and more, people are coming to see this important Sacrament as a vital part of their spiritual life. Like the psalmist, those who frequent this Mystery of forgiveness find themselves thanking God: “Too heavy for us, our offenses, but You wipe them away.” Oprah can’t do it, but our Lord can!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say: “There are two ways of knowing how good God is: one is never to lose Him through the preservation of innocence; the other is to find Him again after He has been lost.” During this Lenten season, make time to receive this wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation and experience for yourself the great Love of God it reveals.

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