Sometimes we feel the need to repent for what we have done or what we have omitted to do. In our Catholic tradition, this has always been seen as a sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit- moving us to the point that we are conscious of our own sin and sinfulness. Indeed, this has always been seen as a necessary condition for receiving the forgiveness of God.
The forgiveness or mercy of God is always offered freely, but here is the necessary condition in our lives that we have to be ready to receive that Mercy.
Think of the Journey of the delinquent son back to the Prodigal Father. In this most powerful parable so incredibly captured by the artist Rembrandt (I have a life size reproduction on my stairwell at home), it was part of Grace that the young man (or maybe not so young anymore) has to come to his senses and be prepared to return, without conditions, to the Father.
The Father’s reaction is the overwhelming Mercy- freely given and unconditional and completely overwhelming and unexpected for the (not so) young man. He expected punishment, degradation and possibly humiliation. This is not what he received. So with the Mercy of God.
But what of the residue? While we are forgiven, freely and overwhelmingly, there is a need to change the way we continue. This has been my preoccupation for the last couple of weeks. The forgiveness of God has overwhelmed me, not in a feeling of forgiveness but in a sense of God’s gentle, peaceful presence that once again allows me to get up from my pre-occupation with self, failure, pain and get on with the work of living in God’s presence.
In the last 2 weeks this has been clarified itself as atonement. Atonement is an ongoing attitude of being radically aware of how close the sinful self can be to surfacing, destroying both self and others. Atonement is a chance to live in a deep awareness that we can only survive by grace and the presence of God. Not a momentary experience, but a life lived in radical awareness of the presence and action of Grace.
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