“For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 66:2)
(Note: All of the Lectionary (Scripture readings for the week) come from the website of the Byzantine Catholic Church of America. If you are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or other denomination the follows a Lectionary, please refer to your respective Diocese/Eparchy/Church bulletin for the readings of the week)
Here are the daily readings for the third week of the Lenten/Great Fast season:
|Second Sunday of Great Lent: St. Gregory Palamas
(Fifth Sunday before Pascha / Easter)
|Hebrews 1:10-2:3 (Sunday)
Hebrews 7:26-8:2 (St. Gregory)
Mark 2:1-12 (Sunday)
John 10:9-19 (St. Gregory)
|Third Week of Great Lent|
All Souls Saturday
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 (All Souls)
John 5:24-30 (All Souls)
My apologies for getting this out late for the second week in a row. I will strive for the rest to be published on Sunday, as scheduled.
Last week, I mentioned the tools we utilize during the Lent/Great Fast season. They are Faith, Fellowship, Prayer, and Reconciliation, or the Act of Contrition. Today I’d like to turn our focus on one of the hardest disciplines of the Lent/Great Fast season: Contrition.
I use the word contrition rather than just penance because contrition (from the Latin, “contritus”, “ground to pieces”) is not just saying sorry to someone, but is a real turning of the heart (and grinding away the obstacle that divided), and not just feeling sorrowful. But the act of contrition is also a turning away from the sin that caused the harm in the first place. It is both the abstaining from the sin as well as doing penance, or repairing the residual damage caused by the deed itself. We act in such a way as to truly repair the harm we have done to God and others. Whether that be a thing or relationship that has been broken, our ultimate penance is to God, and through His Grace, reconcile ourselves to Him and His children. For sin is never victimless.
I am well aware of the doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants and Evangelicals communities regarding faith and works, but I will not tackle that issue here. However, I would like to discuss the subject of contrition in ways that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, evangelicals Non-Denominationals, and Protestants can use on our Lenten/Great Fast journey.
I’d like to address the issue of contrition in three parts; one about contrition itself; two, suggestions on how my Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Non-Denomminational, and Protestant brothers and sisters; third, my final thoughts about contrition moving forward in the Lenten season and beyond.
I’ve mentioned in this series of articles what is the most difficult aspects of the Christian life. We don’t feel comfortable repenting and reconciling. And even more uncomfortable repairing a relationship (in the case of this article, the act of contrition). Our apologies often sound limp in our ears, and for both parties, the journey from here is fraught with “rebuilding” and in some cases the sense of trust. For some, the move is easier. For most, it has some pain attached to it and is very hard to do.
But for all Christians, we are called to reconcile and be contrite between ourselves and with God. In fact, Christ gives us a stern warning that an unforgiving heart will be met by the Father’s unwillingness to forgive (Matt. 6:15; Mk. 11:26). And way is that? Not because He loves us less, but because “putting on Christ” (Rom. 13:14) also means living the life of Christ and to deliberately be a part of His extended and eternal family, where God’s Grace reigns.
In the past, people have joked with me about having had “Catholic guilt” (mostly by ex-Catholics). I find this curious. Having a conscience and guilt over something I have done keeps me from becoming a psychopath. I am not worried that I am sinning against God at every step (really I don’t), nor am I consistently worried about the possibility of losing my salvation, though while I have free will, the possibility still exists that I can turn my will away from God. Having said this, there is room for guilt. It is the thing that tells us we need to repair something broken. In a world that says that anything that gives off a “negative feeling” is bad, and that this “feeling” in turn needs to be negated, for the Christian, having a guilty heart is actually rather positive. When we are tempted to drive faster and beat the traffic light, though by doing so may cause harm to ourselves and others, not to mention it being illegal, conscience pulls us back. Before we say hurtful things to the ones we love, I hope we check our conscience against it. In my experience, there is always a part of me that warns against it. In the spiritual life, God nudges our conscience, warning us to the disaster that sin will cost us and others in the end.
Matthew 5:23-24 says,” Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”. (This scripture should have significant meaning for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox in relation to the Eucharist), which is simply an act of contrition. At Lent, we await the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the point, we have yet to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” (Psalm 34:8) The Cross comes at a great price. We, in the act of contrition, “pay” in a small way, by sacrificing our pride to God and by extension, to others. At the altar of Matthew 24 is Christ, Who wishes to be at the very center of our lives, to heal all our infirmities. The act of contrition also prepares us for Holy Week of the Lenten season. For in our woundedness, we in turn get a taste of He Who was wounded for us. This should be something all Christians should think about during Lent.
So what can Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, Non-Denominationals, and Protestants do regarding contrition during this Lent/Great Fast? Here are a few suggestions.
For Catholics and Eastern Orthodox:
Make use of the Sacrament of Confession and do so as much as possible during this time. Remember that the priest is not only acting “In persona Christi” or as Christ’s representative, proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness of sins. The priest is also your brother in Christ, and as part of your spiritual family, he can give advice, encouragement, and healing in order to strengthen you and help you avoid the temptation to sin again.
Also, abstaining from receiving the Eucharist, especially when not having confessed mortal sin, is a good discipline in this season to put the right focus on our Lenten journey. Ultimately, as it is with all aspects of the Christian life, Jesus Christ is at the heart and center of all things.
For my Evangelical, Non-Denominational, and Protestant brothers and sisters:
In prayer, reach out to family and friends with unresolved conflicts, whom you may not have seen in a long time, or those you need to come clean with and bring healing, whether caused by you or by others. Remember, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father in the parable (who is God the Father Himself) does not wait for his son to walk completely to the door of the house to greet him in reconciliation, but from a far off sees him and runs up to meet him (Lue 15:20 ). The act of contrition does not likewise wait for the “perfect time”. There is no such thing as a perfect time. For God, all times are perfected in time. If the Good Shepard, Who is Jesus, can seek out the lost sheep instead of comforting Himself with what He already has won (John 10), we in turn should not be comforted with unresolved conflicts with all of God’s children.
In my last article, I mentioned that each of these “simple” gifts reorder our lives back to God and His order of things. And I bring the subject of contrition on the third week of Lent rather than on the first for an important reason. Reconciliation is not only at the heart of the Lenten season but at the center of the whole Christian life. In the Eastern Catholic tradition, the start of Lent/Great Fast begins with “Forgiveness Sunday”, when the whole congregation asks and receives forgiveness in the name of God. But this is something to remember from the first to the last week of the Lenten season and beyond. Because when others see us being contrite and participating in the acts that bring reconciliation, the world will see what is possible if they themselves reach out to the God Who creates, forgives, and reconciles with humanity.
May all of you have a blessed week of Lent.