Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Retreat Report: the "Convicted" Heart

In a retreat meditation from 1935 (#158-164a), our Founder stressed the “penitence” of the Sacrament of Penance, not the confession (accusation). He uses the example of the woman at Simon's house, whom he identifies with Mary Magdalen. He connects “sorrow for sin” (dolore) with two Gospel lines about penance: If you do not repent (pentirete) and do penitence, you will not enter the kingdom (Lk 13:5) and Do penance, repent” (he then restates it, “pull out evil by the roots: sradicarlo”); cf. Lk 3:8-9. Then he commented that we tend to put too much stress on the confession of sin: repentance ("sorrow/dolore for sin") is a “heavenly gift.” We have to pray for it, and have much hope, based on Jesus having died for us.

About two or three years ago, my community in Chicago was treated to tickets to a stage production of “The Screwtape Letters,” based on the book by C.S. Lewis. The whole work was reproduced by just two actors—and one of them didn't even have any lines! As we left the theater and headed toward the L train after the performance, we heard footsteps. A man strode past us with a real spring in his step. He had been at the theater too. Just as he passed us, he turned and declared, with arms outstretched, “I feel convicted!” He was beaming. That's a great example of what St. Paul called "godly repentance."  The bracing energy of truth strips away our threadbare compromises, but doesn't leave us bereft and bedraggled, humbled to the dust forever. Quite the contrary. In godly repentance, we suddenly recognize a greater good than the one we had been trying to preserve or protect. There is a dying here, as a bigger truth than we were ready to suspect strips away the compromises that we have grown so used to. And there is a resurrection here, too: in that very same instant, we discover that the greater good is already ours: a vibrant and trustworthy new life.

 “Christian conversion requires a fundamental reappraisal of oneself as a sinner, and hence an acceptance of others, even in their weakness, and this is the basis for true Christian community. When this reappraisal has not happened, the Christian community becomes an idea, separate from the members who make it up; they are rejected as stupid, confused, ignorant or sinful if they do not share the same ideal as oneself" (David Bird, echoing comments made decades earlier by Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

 God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine. And he knows us intimately, he knows all our strengths and all our faults. Because he loves us so much, he wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance. When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect. That is what he asked of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect" (Benedict XVI to the young people in Malta).

So the “convicted” heart is willing to change. 

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