Learning true repentance

“Repentance does not mean self-punishment… It means that we set our faces back to Jerusalem, back to our Lord, and set out once again in expectant hope that we will be forgiven and all will be well.”

I saw Jesus’ face today. Now, before you get all excited, I didn’t see His face in any fantastical vision or euphoric experience. I saw His face in the mass, when the priest raised the consecrated host up to the faithful and said to us, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

I love His face. When I was in college, I used to spend hours looking at It every week in adoration. I would come for a holy hour four days a week before going to class. There was even a deacon who would leave Jesus out a little longer for me on a day when my class schedule wouldn’t permit me to make the holy hour. I just loved seeing His face, the face of the One Who loves me. I don’t see It often outside the mass these days, but He still manages to remind me that it really is Him I see when I gaze at that little white host. In that host is contained the Face of eternity.

When I looked at His face today in the mass, when I said the words of the sinner, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” I was reminded again of Whose face I was looking at, to Whom I was saying those words. Here is my God, the One Whom I love, the One Who loves me with everything He is and Who so willingly and so eagerly gives Himself to me when I but turn my face to His. In the light of His Face, I felt my heart moved to true repentance. I was deeply sorry to have hurt the One Who loves me, and I eagerly sought His forgiveness.

And there was something interesting in that movement of heart, in this experience of true repentance. Not once in that brief exchange with Our Lord did I start to blame myself. I did not chastise or berate myself for having fallen short of the love He desires and deserves. I did not turn inward to speak hateful or accusatory things to myself because I had failed to love Him and had turned to sin once again. There was none of that there. There was only sorrow, and a deep hope and confidence in His ability and willingness to forgive me and let me run to Him again.

How often do we fixate on our faults? How often do we get caught up in the hustle to spiritual perfection? We want so much to be holy, to love Him well, to love our neighbors well, and it can be hard to see that we are not where we want to be. But all our fixating and spiritual naval gazing will not make us holy because we’re not looking to the One Who can save us for saving, the One Who can heal us for healing. It’s really easy to look at ourselves in disgust at our sinfulness. It’s really hard to look at the Face of God and ask forgiveness.

Repentance does not mean self-punishment. It doesn’t mean accusing or blaming ourselves or wallowing in the fact that we have done wrong. It means that we set our faces back to Jerusalem, back to our Lord, and set out once again in expectant hope that we will be forgiven and all will be well.

When the prodigal son had squandered his inheritance, he literally wallowed in the effects of his sins, having been brought so low as to be the caretaker of the pigs. But, “coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father.” (Luke 15:17-20). The prodigal son, remembering his father’s love for him, boldly set out to his father’s house to seek forgiveness. He acknowledged his wrong. He knew it. He had felt the effects of it. But everything changed when he stopped punishing himself for it and set out in hope of the life he had been promised, the life he had thrown away but still had a chance to regain.

I’m so amazed at his boldness, his audacity, and his trust in his father and the love he had for him. What if we chose to have that same boldness when we approach the Face of God? When we go before Him in the mass and proclaim our unworthiness, what if we dared to lift our eyes to see His face, to receive His mercy? What if we dared to let Him look at us and restore us to the beauty we once had, that He still sees when He looks at us?

Oh, He wants to forgive us, but so easily we turn away! Let us not leave Him waiting any longer. Run to the Father’s house. Run to Him. Bring yourself to His feet and tell Him that you’re sorry, that you want to be better, that you can’t without His help. Oh, He loves you so much. He loves you so much. Won’t you let Him see your face? Won’t you let Him love you at last and make you everything you’ve ever wanted to be?

We don’t need to hate ourselves for being sinners. We don’t need to focus on how we need to grow, what we need to change, how we have to be better in order to be His beloved. We have only to seek His face, to let Him love us and, in that love, move us to repentance and move us to change. Nothing is about us in the end. It is all about Him and His love for us.

Look to His face today. Let the eyes of Love gaze upon you and make you radiant. Let Him teach you repentance, and teach you love. There is no better teacher than Him.