Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The "Repentance Ripple Effect"

Wash yourselves clean! 
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; 
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
 Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
 hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, 
says the LORD: 
Though your sins be like scarlet, 
they may become white as snow;
 though they be crimson red,
 they may become white as wool (Isaiah 1:16-18).

These words from the prophet Isaiah are from a classic "Lenten time" text that is meant to highlight the loving largesse of God in continually calling the Israelite community to repentance and renewed fidelity to the covenant. What makes this text so vitally important and relevant for Christians of the 21st Century is that it points to the communal dimensions of penance and how focusing on this can create a "ripple effect" that than results in healing and forgiveness at a personal level.

For the past hundred years or so, Lent and the penance inherent in it has been approached largely as a personal or individual affair. Lent was a time for getting one's own house/relationship with God in order so as to be prepared to celebrate Easter. The practices associated with Lent include prayer, fasting, works of mercy, and confessing one's sins to a priest. While these practices are good in and of themselves, when they are not in any way, shape, or form connected to the larger community and world, they risk becoming purely individualistic practices that don't really result in a change on this larger scale. What Isaiah, and many prophets for that matter, indicate through their writings is a quite opposite process. They teach that by reaching out to the larger community as an arm of advocacy and voice for justice, one's personal house will quite naturally be put in order and one's "sins" will become "white as snow." The point for Christians living in a very individualistic culture is that regardless of whether we begin with "our house" or the "larger house" of the community and world, our repentance should create a "ripple effect" that impacts both our lives AND the world for the better. Pat, TOR


E. Folio said...

Great insight Fr. Pat. God Bless.