The Unrepentant Thief

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Three Crosses

Although the door to repentance is wide open, it is a very tiny door.  We have to be very small to find it, and even smaller to enter it.  Repentance can only begin with humility. 

Canadian author Michael O’Brien in his epic fiction novel The Father’s Tale writes this conversation between a priest and the protagonist that clearly reflects our human experience:

“You see, Aleksandr, in each heart three trees grow. Life cuts them down, trims them, crafts them into crosses. Then they are lifted high on a hill – a hill like a skull. One is the cross of Jesus, the second the cross of the repentant thief, and third the cross of the unrepentant thief.  . . .

We like to think that in times of trial, we will suffer like Jesus. If we are a little bit realistic, we will say to ourselves, “No, I am not much like Him. Therefore I will be like the repentant thief, and go straight to Paradise.” But so often, when the trial arrives, we find to our dismay that in fact we are the unrepentant thief. . .”

“Yes, Alex said morosely, nodding.  “That is true.”

“This is not a cause for sadness,” the priest said with a smile and outstretched arms.  “This is a great victory. To see ourselves as we are is the precondition for repentance.  When we understand that we are the unrepentant thief, then and only then are the wellsprings of conversion opened to us.  We can turn to Jesus hanging in agony on his cross and beg forgiveness from him.  And on that day, we enter Paradise.”

Seeing Ourselves

To see ourselves as we are is the precondition for repentance.  It requires humility to recognize that we have failed to love God and neighbor with our thoughts, words and actions. To offer no excuses, justifications, and explanations for our lack of charity requires dismantling the bulky armor that defends our pride. Arrogance and self-righteousness obscure our objectivity.

When was the last time a loved one acknowledged that they wronged you?  When was the last time you approached someone to admit blame?  Challenging as it may be, repentance should be a solid thread in our lives as followers of Jesus.  Our lifelong transformation in love does not happen without it.  The Church gives us the season of Lent as a chance to see ourselves as we are, repent of sin, and return to the Father. 

Preparing our Hearts for Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  Let us humble ourselves before God and enter into this penitential season as the chance to turn from sin and turn to God.  The following 5 actions will help get us started:

    1. Ask God for the grace to recognize our own sins – what we have done and failed to do.
    2. Acknowledge our sins – Name the wrongful acts/thoughts and accept responsibility for them. When we are in a personal relationship with God, our sorrow for sin is motivated by faith and love of God.   
    3. Repent – Turn from the darkness of sin and turn to God for forgiveness and healing.  Only God forgives sins. Our merciful Father does not delay in embracing a repentant son or daughter. He is ready to make us new again.
    4. Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation – “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. (CCC 1440)”  Encountering Jesus in this Sacrament provides us not only absolution for our sins, but we also begin to receive healing from the effects of sin in our hearts.
    5. Receive grace – This return to God with all our heart effects interior conversion.  It will inflame us with the desire and resolution to change our lives with hope in God.  We start anew, reorienting our sight and trusting in Him.

The Gift of Lent

When Lent comes around, a little anecdote always helps me to take this penitential season seriously.  As I get older, I take it even more earnestly.  

Upon death, a person faces Jesus and says, “Lord, I did not have enough time to reform my life.” To which, Jesus replies, “I gave you Lent every year.”

Let us humble ourselves before the Lord. Find that tiny door of repentance and enter through it. There, we will encounter Jesus, our God who emptied Himself.

Nannet Horton is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, NFP teacher, and CGS catechist. She enjoys being a student of the Catholic faith and teaching it to others. Her first book, “Missionary Parenting – Cultivating the 6 Key Relationships Essential to Your Domestic Church,” is co-written with her husband, Bob.

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