by Tony Magliano
Quite some years ago, I was working as director of Christian formation at a Catholic high school, I remember that on Ash Wednesday while assisting in signing students with blessed ashes, instead of saying “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” to one of the students I heard myself starting to say, “Turn away from the Gospel” … and at that point I immediately stopped, and with a smile said to her: “Let’s try that again.”
It was a teachable moment for me. One that helped me better appreciate God’s delightful sense of humor, and the easy going down-to-earth incarnational way he usually relates to us.
And even more importantly, I more deeply realized that out of our mistakes, shortcomings and even sins, the Spirit of God is continuously inspiring us to not get discouraged when we fall short of the mark. Instead, encouragingly the Spirit always says to us, “Let’s try that again.”
Lent is indeed the perfect time for each of us to ask ourself what thoughts, feelings, words and actions in our life do we need to admit are not good for us and others? And what good thoughts, feelings, words and actions are we failing to nurture for ourself and for others – both near and far?
Once we have honestly done this healthy examination of conscience, with a sorrowful heart and a firm amendment to sin no more, we will hear the Spirit of the Lord peacefully say to us, “Let’s try that again.”
As it has been well noted, our good and merciful Lord is the God of second chances – and third, fourth, fifth and even infinite chances! But for this bountiful gift to take effect in our lives we need to have the humility – the foundational virtue of all the other virtues – to acknowledge our shortcomings, and especially what is sinful in our lives, seek God’s forgiveness – especially by regularly availing ourselves to the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation – and concentrate on growing in virtue ever more so.
Now what is true for us as individuals is also true for us collectively as the church – the “People of God.”
In light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what shortcomings and sins of commission and omission do we need to humbly own up to, and seek pardon for? Perhaps it’s a sense of clericalism which Pope Francis has condemned among some clerics. Perhaps it’s a rather lackluster, somewhat inattentive participation at what is supposed to be the “celebration” of the Eucharist. Or maybe it’s mere token gestures toward the poor, unborn, war-torn and the earth. What else do you think we as church need to repent of?
And what is true for us as individuals and as church, is also true for us as a nation. So, likewise, let us ask ourselves what is our government, corporate structures, culture and society saying and doing that is harmful and sinful to the nation, and the nation’s inhabitants, as well as to the world’s inhabitants and the earth itself?
And what are the many good things our nation is failing to do, things that really could be done – like ending abortion, poverty, hunger, homelessness, war and environmental degradation – to make our nation and world a far more just and loving place?
This Lent, let us wholeheartedly admit our sins to God and resolve as individuals, church and nation to avoid evil and to do good.
For as the proverb wisely teaches: “Confession is good for the soul.”
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.