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Advent: the Good of Repentance

"Four marks of true repentance are: acknowledgement of wrong, willingness to confess it, willingness to abandon it, and willingness to make restitution."

Corrie Ten Boom

Repentance always comes to the fore in Advent. Though Advent is not a penitential season, the prime means of expectant waiting for the coming of Jesus is repentance, just as it was in the time of John the Baptist. But, how many today actually understand what repentance is?

The first thing that needs to be said about repentance is that it cannot exist without faith. By faith, which like repentance is a gift from God, we express the desire to be a people who, as opposed to seeking our own way, put our minds and hearts in the hands of God so that we can be formed by His perfect will. In this sense, repentance is not merely turning from the life of sin. It is much more than that: the embrace of a new life! So repentance is not primarily something we do. It is the work of God in us, drawing us to himself, turning us from the old life of sin.

But what does this look like?

First, it means owning the wrong, saying "I did it!" and "That was me!" There can be no repentance, either towards God or towards our neighbor, without taking personal responsibility. Taking responsibility also means not remaining silent about our faults, but speaking of them with admission and confession. Sin is destructive. It is confession that is constructive, because it involves telling the truth, not only to God, but to our friends, no matter what the cost might be, not matter how embarrassing it might be. At this point, I need to say that your priests are always at the ready to hear your confession, which is such a great mercy of God, who provides a ready and available remedy to our many faults - the listening ear of a friend, endowed with the ability to forgive sins.

Next, we must be both willing to abandon our sin and make meaningful restitution. Note what Corrie Ten Boom does not say. She does not say that we must abandon our sin in order to repent. We must only be willing, offering ourselves to the mercies of God who alone by His grace can do anything about our sinful condition. Willingness says this: I have lived by my own will, and now I must live by another. I have done it my way, and now I am willing to abandon myself to God's will. Concurrent with this is the need to make some kind of restitution. In many cases, restitution is very difficult, if not impossible. We often owe debts which we can never repay. But, when we can, we should. This is the reason that a good confessor will often prescribe various penances to the penitent, and most of the time, these are rather simple: some prayers to pray, a day of fasting, a psalm to recite. Penances are based on the understanding that when we cannot repay, we can at least do token things to participate in the work which God is doing in us in leading us to repentance.

Are you at enmity with your neighbor? Are you feeling distance from the Lord? Repentance is the way!

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