In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength Isaiah 35
(From Holy Baptism : The Decision)
Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God?
I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life?
I come to Christ.
Notice the shape and flow of the questions and answers. The first three answers parallel the three denials of Peter in the Courtyard, and the second three, his declarations of love to the risen Jesus by the lake. The choreography is that of someone turning. In the first three questions we hear what is being turned away from, and in the second set, who is being turned to. The sixth question also makes it clear that we are not turning and staying on the same spot. We are turning towards, and coming to Christ and following him who is The Way. So, at this key moment of baptism, we turn and in so doing change the fundamental direction of our lives.
Repentance (Metanoia) means to turn. The key moment for the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is when he turns and comes to his senses. Let us look at the parable and see what happens when the son “turns”.
CONNECTING WITH GOD’S WORD
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
(You can see the Full Text in Luke Chapter 15, including the Elder Brother’s response)
The son has journeyed far away into a distant land, a poetic reference to his becoming distant to his Father and their relationship. Having gone as far as he can, portrayed by his loss of wealth, friends, dignity and being envious of the pigs and their dinner… he begins to turn. The Gospel speaks of his “coming to his senses”, implying that sin also deludes us, skews our thinking and de-sensitizes us.
- When the son turns, rehearsing his apology, what does he see?
The Father, full of compassion, runs to embrace and kiss him.
- What does this tell us about God?
How does this parable speak to you?
Read it aloud.
Read it slowly.
Read it silently and let a verse, a phrase, a word, a thought, pop up like a cork in water.
Think about that.
Let your thoughts become a prayer.
Then let your prayer pass over into silence.
CONNECTING WITH THE SAINTS
The Desert Fathers
A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church; Abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, “I, too, am a sinner.”
The account of Abba Bessarion comes from the Desert Fathers, a collective name for those who went out into the Egyptian desert to live as hermits and monks around the 3rd and 4th century. They were renowned for rooting out sin in their own lives, and their kindness, compassion and non-judgmentalism towards others. In the next account, Abba Moses shows awareness of Jesus’ teaching on having a plank in our own eye, while trying to remove a speck in someone else’s. Aware of our own blind spots and God’s mercy to us, we too should be more empathetic and compassionate to others.
A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting’ for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him, seeing the trail of water behind him, and said, ‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
CONNECTING WITH OURSELVES
As self-examination and repentance go together, we can continue with the Prayer of Examen/ Daily Examen associated with Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The practice helps us discern God’s presence in our daily lives and where he might help us and lead us in the coming day. (It is often used towards the close of the day.) The following is a version of the Prayer of Saint Ignatius from Loyola Press/ www.ignatianspirituality.com
As we reflect this time, we might pause to become aware of where our thoughts have grown hard, or our words harsh, and our hearts colder to another. We might ask for grace to ponder how what we judge in others, is related to what is within us.
- Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
- Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.
- Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?
God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.
- Look toward tomorrow.Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.
St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God. End the Daily Examen with the Our Father.
Next week we look at Prayer. We continue with these verses and prayers to memorise, or use for gentle repetition as a prayer word.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be now and always pleasing in your sight O Lord our Rock and Redeemer.
Lord Jesus help us love as you have loved us, forgive as you forgive us, and be blessed in the doing of your teaching.
Help us be still and know that you are God. Help us listen to others with kindness.
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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