March 18, 2020 | Reflections from Sr Antonia

During Lent we sing an antiphon at Middle Hour:

“Repent and believe the Gospel says the Lord”.

Lent has been a part of my life for years, yet it has never taken me to the depths I am experiencing this year. It is not that I have been lax in participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; in the past… quite the opposite. I avail myself of every opportunity to confess and then experience the inpouring of the grace of His love, which gifts me with such peace and joy.

However, this year things are profoundly different. There is a depth and clarity, of both insight and feeling, around my own sinfulness. Sins of the past, already confessed have shown themselves in a new light… which makes me much more aware of the hidden depths of the selfishness and self-centredness of those actions or words. It is not simply the action itself that has been sinful, but also the hidden motives, attitudes, feelings that drives it. SEEING this gives me joy, even as I cringe in shame. I am so grateful for the gift of insight and repentance that God is pouring into my heart.

This experience has made me ponder a little. What is repentance I have been asking myself? And does it differ from confession? I can see that it is very possible to confess the outer manifestation of the sin, and to be very sincere in my declaration of sorrow and need of forgiveness. However, I have learnt that repentance requires a depth of heart response as well. It’s hard going!

“Old age ain’t for sissies”

Michael Casey quoting Bette Davis in his book: “Grace”.

Perhaps we could say “Repentance ain’t for sissies either”!

“Repentance happens gradually over long years of wrestlings that are a descent for us, like peeling back layers of an onion. This is self-knowing that gradually takes us deeper and deeper in the heart. We go down into the heart’s secret recesses and hidden crevices, like going even further into a labyrinth of caverns. We are not shown the deeper evil in us initially, but only as repentance grows do we come, steadily, to the starkest truth about the falsity our heart is in thrall to, and even worshipped as an idol. Only in the deeper journey do we face the harm we have done to others, and to our self.”

Jamie Moran: “The Wound of Existence”

Where has all of this taken me? To silence. Not really the silence where there is absence of words so much as a silence which comes as I sink into God’s ‘rest’… the silence of peace, the silence of surrender.

The motto I took at the time of my being clothed in the monastic habit, and which was written on my vow paper five years later, is “Deep is calling on Deep”. (Psalm 41:8) How little I knew at that time just how far this commitment would take me. What I have experienced is God (grace) calling out an invitation to me to say yes to the unknown. And myself wavering. It’s very scary to feel such a sense of fragility and of powerlessness when we hear that call. It takes courage to be prepared to say yes. I can see as I look back that there were times of denial and times of willingness for me. Denial led to stalemate and a false sense of security, and if I am honest, perhaps smugness at times. Self-righteousness is a powerful tool for denying the truth of who we really are… to ourselves and to others.

Repentance in the Greek is ‘metanoia’ which means to make a 180 degree turn; to choose to take a different direction. I think we can gauge our experience of repentance on how far we have come in loving our neighbour, and our enemy, moving outward from the depths of the inward journey. But this outward journey is contingent on the inward one. To shirk the inward journey leaves us stranded in our own superficiality.

So I guess the question we all need to ask ourselves this Lent is: Am I prepared to take the plunge into deep waters where the hidden attitudes and prejudices that energise my sinfulness, come from? ‘Am I prepared to turn around and stand naked before God… and indeed myself? Do I have the courage to allow him to “wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sins?” (Psalm 50: 1).

Nakedness is the issue isn’t it. Adam and Eve hid from God because they were naked. Physical nakedness is scary enough but to bare one’s soul, even to ourselves let alone God and another human being, is terrifying. What I have seen and come to know that in truth there is no need to hide our nakedness before him or from others. He will always receive us with open arms. And we have to be prepared, when we speak to another human being that acceptance may not be forthcoming; to be prepared that perhaps I might meet rejection. The very fact of admitting one’s culpability brings great peace. After all didn’t Jesus tell us that truth will set us free?

Gratitude fills and spills over from my heart because I have experienced him cleansing me from my sin and anointing me with the purest oil and so:

My cup runneth over. (Psalm 22:5)