The Joy of Repentance

We celebrate this week the life of that most famous of sinner-saints, St Augustine, who said, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.” Augustine’s lust for love and his desire for God are tied together with his passionate approach to life. “Love is the beauty of the soul!” he cries.

What Augustine teaches us is the practical joy of repentance. Repentance is simply the heart felt realization that one is a sinner. So often this realization is linked with guilt–as if feeling guilt is a bad thing. But guilt is simply the pain one feels at the realization of the deep wound of sin. If I have cancer and feel pain a good doctor tells me I have cancer and I need an operation and that may cause me more pain, but it also brings me to face reality and brings me to the point of a possible cure. The pain was therefore a necessary evil. So guilt reminds me of the cancer of sin in my life and that I need the radical surgery from Doctor Jesus to be healed.

That transaction takes place through repentance. When I say “I’m sorry” I become most fully real because I am facing reality. When I say “Mea Culpa–It’s my fault” I achieve freedom. When I cease to blame others and say “What’s wrong with the world: I am.” I am taking responsibility and when I take responsibility I take charge. My will is engaged. I am suddenly mature and fully human.

This is why repentance is joyful–because I am facing reality and accepting freedom. Repentance requires humility, and another quote of St Augustine’s is, “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” This action has built into it our need for God, for why would we repent unless we were asking forgiveness and why ask for forgiveness unless we trusted in the only one who has power to forgive? This step of humility is also a step of good humor, for when we know we are weak we are most strong, and that paradox is a joyful, hilarious realization.

Repentance also lays the foundation for experiencing the truth. When we repent we admit that we know nothing and it is only at the point that we admit that we do not know that we can begin to learn what we do not know and then learn what we need to learn. Repentance is growth. The Eastern Orthodox teach that the soul is closest to God not when he is receiving consolations or is experiencing some great miracle or wonder, but it is when he truly and honestly utters the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me a Sinner.” At that point the soul takes a great leap towards God and is then the closest to his love.

Before this  moment of realization and return, before this moment of repentance our hearts are restless–always searching for an answer and yet at the same time always running from the answer, for our hearts are truly restless until they rest in God, and that rest in God can only come on the other side of repentance. Then the soul is not only at rest, but it enjoys a quiet and joyful rest that is the radiance of the Divine Mercy.


Managing the Mystery of Money
Ten Catholic Answers to “Why Do You Call Your Priests ‘Father’”?
Do You Enjoy Being Miserable?
Eliot in Love
  • Dylan

    Thank you for this preaching on authentic holiness, Father. It clarifies my own walk. I didn’t know that about the Orthodox Church. Awesome! St. Augustine, pray for us.

  • David_Naas

    The second hardest words a human can say are, “I was wrong.”
    The first hardest words a human can say are, “I AM wrong.”
    But, as noted, they are the most liberating.
    Not having to be absolutely RIGHT all the time is a liberation.
    Because if you are right all the time, you are responsible for all the ills of the world.
    If you are wrong, you have responsibility only for what you, personally, have done.
    But, you can’t fix what you, personally have done, any more than you can repair the ills of the world.
    Only God can fix what you, personally, have done (wrong).
    And then you can begin (in God’s Name) to repair the world.
    Because when you proceed “in God’s Name”, it really isn’t you who is doing it.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Another great piece. I like the way you talk about ‘facing reality’.

    So often, modern Catholics (Evangelicals even more so) do not realise that ‘Truth’ is another word for reality, and not simply the Enlightenment reduction to the collection of things ‘I believe’ ‘inside my head’, which often has no bearing on reality, as its ‘objectivity’ is to be found only in the correspondence of my subjective thoughts with, and about, my subjective sensations.

    It seems to me this frame of reference is utterly toxic when it enters the spiritual life, yet it seems to be the predominant paradigm from which many Christians now operate since we’ve become ‘ecumenical’.

    Protestantism and Secularism are cut from the same cloth, and when it enters the Church, it is very harmful. Sacraments become magic, and ritual gestures become an embarrassment as there is no longer anything ‘objective’ to which one is bowing or prostrating oneself, and beauty is a distraction from the wonders of the labyrinth of my mind, so I close my eyes.

    Repentance, from this standpoint, is reduced to something mental, the correspondence – or not – of my behaviour with some rules dreamt up by ‘old men in dresses at the Vatican’ who deign to impose their subjective ‘beliefs’ on me. ‘Objectivity’ is simply a clash of subjectivities: mere moralism.

    Why confess to a priest? Because he’s outside your head, in persona Christi aside. It’s that simple.

    This is why I believe, and the Church, in her wisdom, assumed, it’s risky allowing poorly catechised Catholics anywhere near ‘ecumenism’, because Protestantism is ‘common sense’, it aligns perfectly with modernity.

    Catholicism comes to rest in a Who, Protestantism, a what.

  • Tom in SJ

    Thank you for this post Fr. Longenecker. I was baptized Catholic as an infant, but did not embrace the Faith until my early 20s. At which time I took Augustine as my name at Confirmation. My father’s family was Episcopalian, while my mom is Roman Catholic. There was much tension over religion in our home while I was growing up. At times it seemed like we had our own mini Reformation going on. In the end I was raised agnostic. Fortunately I rediscovered Rome while in college and especially loved reading St. Augustine’s Confessions. Today my father and mother are practicing Catholics.

  • AugustineThomas

    Thank you Father!

  • Grtgrandpa

    Every Catholic should read St. Augustine’s “Confessions.” It can be found on the New Advent web site at Church Doctors.

  • Jeannine

    A wonderful priest I know referred to confession as “coming out into the light.”