Monday, June 08, 2009

THE HIDDEN LIFE - Repentance

The way to Heaven may be described simply in four steps: repentance, Faith, Hope and Charity. These steps are taught to us by Holy Mother the Church throughout the Liturgical year.
We begin with Advent when we are taught the repentance of the Old Testament and as taught by St. John the Baptist. In Lent we are again taught repentance, as perfected by Christ. It is by this New Testament repentance that Faith is given us, by which we become true Catholics, or members of the Catholic Church.

Having reached Faith (by God's grace), God leads us to Hope and Charity.

The reason few souls reach faith (or enter the Church) is because of a wrong concept of Repentance. We think repentance is that brief moment we spent before confession; examining our conscience, saying our sins to the priest, receiving absolution and saying our penance. That is called the Sacrament of Penance. The life of repentance is to develop the Virtue of Penance which is necessary for the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

The life of repentance was taught to us in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Christ taught us the perfection of repentance. He taught us by word and example, in the hidden Life He lived for thirty years, showing us how to repent, develop the virtue of Penance and receive the virtue of Faith. All we had to do was to imitate Him.

Christ lived thirty years of hidden life, so must we. But what does "thirty" years mean? Depending on how we respond to grace, our "thirty years" of hidden life could be anywhere from three hours to 90 years. But what is important is what we do within that 'hidden life.'

This is summarized in the Gospel incident after Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple: 'He was subject to them and grew in maturity and in grace.' What did He do at home during those thirty years of hidden life? He subjected Himself to His parents. This is the model of monasticism. The Rule of St. Benedict begins stating that one enters the monastic life to "subject himself."

Christ was teaching us the life of Repentance during His hidden life at home; while St. John was showing us the life of repentance in the desert. It is ideal to repent at home but if this is difficult we have to go to the desert. This explains the exodus of the first Christians from homes and cities to go to the desert.

We have seen that original sin is man's refusal to subject himself to God. Christ in His Hidden Life teaches us how we can subject ourselves, and therefore go back, to God.

The Fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine, described the life of repentance as consisting in three activities: fasting, prayer and good works, perfectly blended into a way of life where we are constantly performing these activities one after another. St. Benedict in his Rule devised a way of life that perfectly blended these three. During this life of repentance we may not do anything outside these three activities, or there is great danger of committing sin by doing our will.

Repentance, however, is a grace from God. Without that grace we cannot repent. Though He gives this grace generously to everybody it is easy to reject it. That's why it is rare to find someone repenting, i.e. living "the hidden life". But when this grace is given and the person responds favorably to it, living 'thirty years' of hidden life becomes evident by its fruits (the fruits of repentance.)