Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Imagine that someone has committed a major crime or grave sin. (It’s not so hard to do if you read the paper or watch the news!) Wouldn’t it be nice to hear something like this:
“What I did was wrong. Truthfully, I knew that. But I thought I could get away with it. I thought no one would notice. I thought, in the end, it wouldn’t make that much difference to anyone. I see now how wrong I was. I apologize. I ask for your forgiveness. I’ll spend the next year serving people in need, as a penance, and I won’t have anything more to say until after that.”
There it is: a clean apology, followed by a period of repentance. It’s not rocket science, as they say! Why, then, is it so rarely seen?
Instead of wondering why others don’t do this, we can seize the opportunity that Lent gives us to move the world in this direction. We can’t make other people apologize and repent. But we can do the work in our own lives. And when we do it ourselves, then we have the credibility to call others to task when they don’t, and the moral depth to make an effective invitation to do so.
“We have sinned, been wicked, and done evil.” So speaks the prophet Daniel in the first reading of the week on Monday, setting the tone for the entire week. Watch how he follows up, though: “But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness.” God’s mercy is always being offered to sinners. Honest confession and repentance opens a space in us where we can receive that mercy. And when we receive God’s mercy, we become instruments of His mercy in the world.
Maybe this is one of the reasons people find it hard to apologize: they’re afraid there’s no mercy for the sinner. And our culture pretty well confirms the point: sinners get canceled.
Thankfully, that’s not the approach God takes to us! Jesus didn’t “cancel” or “unfriend” the sinful world. Precisely the opposite: He entered into it, and took the weight of sin upon Himself. Because we know that, we can tell the world there’s another way of dealing with sin.
We’re accustomed to think that our main task in life is to imitate God’s way of being and acting. There’s truth in that — we are called to follow God’s example!
What we can’t forget, though, is the Gospel warning that God will follow our example! “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “For the measure with which you measure will, in turn, be measured out to you.”
A culture that can’t make an honest confession, and can’t forgive, is setting itself up for a fall. Lent gives us an opportunity to start building another kind of culture.