The universal church recently celebrated the beginning of Penitential Day. This is the day when every Christian should take the time to go before the Lord and repent of their personal sins. No secret sin will ever be kept a secret. What sin is done in the dark will eventually be exposed to light.
We need to pick a special time to repent on a daily basis. This is what our Lord taught us to pray. Some Christians routinely repent; however, they make it so ritualistic the quality of repentance has no spiritual force which will cause God to set up and take note of such a prayer of a Christian truly looking for forgiveness. That prayer which becomes so routine has no force in it. This is not unlike the routine repeating of the 23rd Psalm which has lost much of it faith and motivation for the Christian looking for spiritual help (Jer 5:16).
Ash Wednesday is the Church’s great penitential day when we remember consciously before God that “We have erred and strayed like lost sheep. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done. At the same time we must admit that we also have done some things we ought not to have done. There is no one whom these words of repentance do not apply” (Acts 2:38).
We call upon God in a serious manner so that we can own up to the contradictions and conflicts within our hearts and other people. We are also called upon to face up to the sins of omission and commission which marks all of us. And like Adam and Eve, this causes us to run and hide from God when He is near.
Ash Wednesday is fully meaningful only for the Christians, that truly practicing Christian. Everyone needs to have his/her moments of honesty with himself/herself and contrition for his mistakes and misdeeds. Now for the Christians, there is a great incentive to always repent. But also makes repentance more complete when it is done spiritually correct. That is, we make our confession knowing in advance that there is a climate of love which makes it possible for us to be honest with ourselves and loving and forgiving to other people, and likewise this will enable us to receive their love and forgiveness in return.
It is because of our faith that God loves us, not so much for what we do or don’t do, but because we are the children of His love. And now through His love we can now dare to look at the sordid and broken aspect of our lives and our relationships. There has to be a chance of forgiveness for ourselves to make us bold enough to confess - not just to admit reality, but to want things to be different, to want ourselves to be different kinds of persons.
Our Christian faith has provided us this theme of love and forgiveness, “For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). St. Paul fortifies this theme of love when He states, “For God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for our sins” (Rom 5:8).
The Lord’s Prayer speaks of “sins” and not just “sin.” The real problem of sin is not the misdeeds that we do, but the attitude that we have after we have done them. Sin is primarily that attitude toward life in which we feel that we are the center or the universe, so that the sun, moon, and stars revolves around our own self-concern, and that we are primarily responsible to ourselves only and not to anyone or anything.
This basic attitude of Sin leads to two alternating results and all of us have had plenty experience with both. On the one hand we tend to feel that the world and everything and everyone in it exist to support us in our estimate of our own importance. This leads to using people as things. We have on occasions used those who are close to us. They exist primarily to serve our needs. On the other hand, we may try and push people around as we become assertive and aggressive, and play the role of God - at least to ourselves. Under such circumstances, prayer become meaningless.
There is also the other side sin. Sin may lead us to hate ourselves because we find ourselves so inadequate at making life turn out the way we think it ought to. Some of our inner frustration and aggression we take out on other people rather than coming to grips with the contradiction in our own hearts.
Ash Wednesday is the great penitential day and therefore a day of hope. It is through Godâ€™s help we can face the cause of that which so often separates us from Him, from each other, and from ourselves.
We have the confidence of being loved, even though we often do unlovable things on the one hand, and often think ourselves unlovable on the other. And in this awareness, we can face the reality of Godâ€™s forgiveness and find newness of life.