Turning From Sin Toward God

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turning from sin toward GodTurning From Sin Toward God 

Episode 8

Father David explains turning from sin toward God in the light of the scriptures and explains that God really does forgive! Join Father David weekly as she challenges us to live our faith in a deeper way.

Turning from sin toward God can be demonstrated in the Bible. In the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested he left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea. From that time on Jesus began to preach and say “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17) Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God had already come, and the condition for entering the reign of God was conversion. In the New Testament repentance is usually presented in the context of conversion. A conversion which consists of both interior and exterior notions. When viewing conversion from an interior point of view it means “a change of heart.”  And from an external consideration, it means a change that entails  “living a new way of life.”  The change of heart is primary in the sense that the heart needs to respond to the work of grace, which then secondarily leads to deciding to live a new way of life. In the scriptures, repentance and penance are interchangeable notions. Looking at repentance from a moral point of view it means, “turning from a sinful life back to God.” In the New Testament a “radical change of heart” moves one to a break from a sinful way of life.

Can we turn from sin toward God?

When we hear the word penance in our contemporary society the understanding we usually have is that it means the “sacrament of confession” or “acts of mortification.”  However from a biblical point of view, penance or repentance means, a radical new life in Christ which depends on faith. It is primarily an internal attitude, and it necessarily involves an external manifestation. So penance is not just primarily external practices like fasting, almsgiving, and saying devotions and prayers, but a new way of living which elicits acts of love, mercy, and justice. When looking at conversion from a prophetic point of view it involves a “turning back” and an “experience of compassion.”  On the part of an individual it is a turning away from sin which is ungodly, and on the part of God a gift of compassion which is expressed in  forgiveness. This action of repentance or penance is truly a life-giving Spirit-filled experience within the dynamic action of conversion. Therefore, the demand to do penance is living a new way of life in Christ. ( “De Illis Qui Facient Penitentiam”, Robert Stewart, OFM)

A Penitent is one who is living a way of life which expresses the Christian way of life at a high level of perfection, one who is growing in being completed in living “the Christ-life.” Doing penance is a call to conversion by doing penance which is growing in union with God, and is one who is making the power of God utmost in ones life. In a real sense penance is the way one lives the Gospel, and embraces it generously in growing to salvation. A Penitent lives a life of penance, which is conditioned by a maturation process in the social conditions of one’s life through conversion. For example, Francis of Assisi lived within a penitential culture, in which he  sought contact with God through penance.

Francis experienced two stages of conversion in his life. In the first stage, he gradually went through changes which seem somewhat ambiguous. He tried twice to gain worldly renown by becoming a knight. In the first incident, he participated in a battle between Assisi and Perugia in which he was captured and spent a year in prison. Where he became a totally broken person that took him a long time to rehabilitate. Yet he tried again when he traveled to Spoleto and came across an old battered knight who had nothing. Francis gave him all his new equipment, and now with greater insight into what God wanted from him, he returned to Assisi to face the rage of his Father. Working in his father’s shop where he gave alms to the poor, and at the same time prayed for long periods of time in the caves in the nearby mountain. This first stage climaxed, according to St. Bonaventure, in a life-sized vision of Christ crucified in a cave. Francis was so pierced by the painful rays of Divine love from the suffering heart of Christ that he was totally transformed into a young man filled with great compassion.

In the second stage of his conversion when Francis was still not fully converted, significantly took place on the plains of Assisi when Francis encountered a leper, which he totally abhorred, and embraced him. This event brought about a complete conversion in Francis’s life. From that point on he took care of the lepers in the leprosarium. He says in his writings that from that point on he was a completely converted man, and he “lingered a little and finally left the world.” This stage in his life led to externally renouncing the world by stripping himself naked in front of the Bishop and the whole town of Assisi. “ He stripped naked before the crowd, returning not only the money but also his clothes to Pietro, his father, calling from that day forward, only God his “father”. By this gesture, Francis repudiated his entire past and displayed his intent to “do penance”. Nakedness was a form of humiliation practiced by public penitents. Francis expressed symbolically the rigorous goal of penance: the goal of following Christ in that ancient tradition. Francis had become the penitent. By this act, this conversion…he embraced much more than a simple spiritual change. He made a choice to live, a specific social life as a penitent.

Responding to the ire of his father he returned all the money he was using to restore the area chapels and returned all his clothes to his father. The crucifix in the San Damiano chapel spoke to him and told him to go and rebuild his Church. At this point, Francis received the vision and mission of his call flowing from his total conversion to Christ Crucified and a clear direction for his spiritual journey. ( The Life of Francis of Assisi, Manscelli, pp 55 + )

What does “ lingering a little and then finally leaving the world” mean for us? This meant for Francis and for anyone living in the Penitential culture of the middle ages that this was a call to leave the world he or she was living in and enter some form of consecrated life. Francis lived a life of evangelical poverty for a short period of time. However,  others wanted to be with Francis and do what he was doing. So for Francis and those who joined him they entered a form of consecrated life. There were others who wanted to join him but could not because they were not able, in light of family ties or social situations. He eventually gave them some guidelines and they started to live the Gospel but in a non-consecrated situation. This approach eventually became a Secular Order in the Church for lay men and women who wanted to imitate Francis’s spiritual journey, while handling their God-given responsibilities in the world and also live an evangelical way of life.

However, for us generally speaking, this is a different matter. What does leaving the world mean for us, lay men and women, and also families living in our affluent, busy, and engaging modern society? For us it means prayerfully seeking, no matter what season, stage, or age, we are in at this time of our life; in prayer and the light of the Holy Spirit to seek a clear vision for our life, given to us by God’s mercy and grace. “Leaving the world” in relationship to penance means leaving the worldliness of reality, not leaving active responsible presence in our society.

And consider to seriously evaluate and reorder some of the values and external practices of our life. Francis’s conversion acts as a sign for us, although we have not had a vision of Jesus crucified, but still suffer misery, pain, sometimes rejection and abandonment as we live in this modern, fast-moving, technological world. It may be certain for each one of us that we desire to truly be and live as a Christian in this post-modern world.  Is it possible for us that penance could mean for us a deeper conversion from a life centered on the personal “I” to a life centered on a rich life of grace-centered on God’s loving and caring will for our lives?

Are we able to listen to Jesus preaching to us a life of repentance or penance, not specific actions but a “conversion of heart”, not simply penitential practices but a life lived “in God?” In the course of time, a life lived in a way in which we are molded to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we not be concerned primarily with some kind of external activity or a practice of a particular virtue or set of virtue’s, as with a life according to the form of the Gospel.

Again, what do we mean by penance? Many of us know well the story of King David’s sin with Bathsheba. Through the prophet Nathan, God confronts David over grave sins: adultery and murder. The guilty sovereign responds by confessing his sin to the prophet and to God. Then he humbles himself by exchanging his royal raiment for humble sackcloth. In hopes that the child born from him and Bathsheba, who was gravely ill, would be spared from death; and for a week he lies on the ground and refuses all food. David is performing self-imposed penance in his deep grief for his wrongdoing. His attitudes and behavior illustrate how genuine penance includes both an interior and exterior aspects. Interior penance is a conversion of heart, a turning away from sin and a turning toward God. It involves the penitent’s intention to change his life because he hopes in God’s mercy. We see David’s change of heart shown in his interior attitude and reflected in his prayer of repentance on this occasion, recorded in Psalm 51.

He demonstrates external acts of penance by wearing sackcloth and fasting from all food. External acts of penance include such actions as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the practice of charity in all its forms, and giving to those in need; recall the story of the Good Samaritan in St. Luke’s Gospel, and other appropriate practices. These behaviors can have several purposes: demonstrating the penitents intention to change; detaching him or her from the things that they love too much; drawing one closer to God; repairing some of the damage caused by personal sin, and participating in the reparation and atonement to God (satisfaction) made by Christ through his death on the Cross and his Resurrection to new life.( NAB – Questions & Answers ) Being a penitent actually has a rich and profound meaning for our spiritual life when they are connected to the interior life of grace and the work of doing the mission. There are two major concepts which are united and operate in the dynamic experience of transforming grace in our lives, two sides of the same coin so to speak. The first is our deepest aspiration to be united with Jesus in being missionary disciples of intercession, reparation, and atonement to the Father and to one another; and the second is also being united with Jesus in the offering of his life as a ransom for the many, the splendid gift of his love-filled salvation. Both of these life-giving realities are intimately entwined through our dynamic and participation and union with our glorified Lord, together fulfilling Jesus’ mission in the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

May we pray!

Lord Jesus to you is eternal life. I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. I love You and I place my trust in You. I am sorry for all of my sins and for withholding myself in any way from You. Please forgive me and heal any pain I have caused others. I forgive anyone who has hurt me, and I ask You to bless them. In Your Name Jesus, I renounce anything in my life that is not of you that I have welcomed into my mind or heart. Wash me in mercy and fill me with Your Precious Blood and the Holy Spirit. Father, all of my need for love and affection is found in Your embrace. May I never leave my home in Your heart again. By Your grace I resolve to remain in Your shelter and abide in Your shade, where You restore to me the Joy of Your salvation. Amen. (Fr. John Horn)





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