The penitential aspect of Advent urges us to recognize oneself as being a sinner, and therefore take the first essential step in returning to God.
"It is one's whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed toward a continuous striving for what is better. But doing penance is something authentic and effective only if it is translated into deeds and acts of penance" -- John Paul II
'Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God' (Mt 5:8).
Advent is a season in which we look ahead to Christ who has both come and is coming. It is a time when the words, "Come, Lord Jesus!" reverberate within the depths of our hearts, draw tears of joy from our eyes, and echo throughout the unfathomable reaches of the human soul as we wait in hope. It is a season in which a forward journey is begun in trusting preparation, patiently listening in the quiet of the desert for the soft breath of the Christ Child, whose tender magnificence unceasingly draws us with love into the mysterious life of God Incarnate.
O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see you, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and you are lovely -- Song of Songs 2:14
Yet if our participation in Advent is to reach its fullest potential, it is necessary to explore deeply the Christian process of preparation, an endeavor of holiness that includes ongoing repentance and conversion, for Christ began his mission with the words, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt 4:17). Christ therefore calls us to conversion, a call which "continues to resound in the lives of Christians," and which is an "uninterrupted task for the whole Church" who "follows constantly the path of penance and renewal" (see CCC No. 1427).
Repentance: The Radical Reorientation Of One's Whole Life
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Christ calls us to conversion and penance. However, this call to conversion and penance does not "aim first at outward works," such as fasting and mortification, "but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance" (CCC No. 1430).
This interior repentance that takes place is "a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart)" (CCC No. 1431).
In the Parable of the Lost Son recorded in Luke's gospel (15:11-32), our Lord Jesus Christ reveals the place penance holds in the heart of the truly repentant sinner. After having "squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation," the Lost Son comes to his senses, realizes it is with his father that security, wholeness and true freedom will be restored, and thus firmly resolves to gather himself up, go to his father, and say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you." As the desire for penance floods the Lost Son's heart, he decides to say to his father: "I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers." In these words is revealed something of the human condition: the mystery of contrition as it is interwoven within the process of repentance and conversion, and the restorative healing that, by divine grace, flourishes within the truly penitent sinner who rushes ahead into the arms of the merciful God.
Thus we see that there is an inseparable relationship between repentance, penance and renewal. One does not truly exist without the others. Heartfelt repentance draws us into a wholly new way of life with Christ, a state in which, by God's grace, a radical change takes place at the very center of our being, and, as a result, we set out on a new path of love marked by the desire for penance. In living out such a journey, which is one in Christ, the Christian life is characterized by visible signs of penance, which leads into further growth and renewal, a state in which the regenerative and healing grace of God continues to reorientate the person, ...
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