The Advent season includes the feasts of many popular saints, including St. Nicholas, St. Ambrose, St. Juan Diego, and St. Lucy. As I mentioned in my post about St. Nicholas, I didn’t learn much about the lives of the saints until I was an adult. I recognized St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day because they have been commercialized, but I didn’t know much beyond hearts and shamrocks. As an adult, I became interested in the lives of the saints. A friend loaned me a book about St. Catherine of Siena, and I read another book about St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
My husband bought Treasury of Women Saints for my birthday one year. The more I read about these virtuous Catholics, the more I realized they were human beings like me who were called to a deep love of our Lord and his Church. My love for the saints grew when I had the opportunity to edit the Saint of the Day channel on CatholicExchange.com for several years during which time I got to know the feasts of many saints and to learn about those who aren’t as well-known.
The season of Advent begins a new liturgical year for Catholics, and in the second week, we meet St. John the Baptist telling us to repent. In his homily at this weekend’s Mass, one of the beloved friars at our Franciscan parish spoke of repentance, using the lives and words of several saints to instruct and guide us.
First, he mentioned St. Augustine of Hippo, and his cheeky comment from before his conversion asking God to give him chastity and continence, “but not just yet.” We know that God gave him those gifts and many more as he became a great saint and one of the first four Doctors of the Church.
Another saint whose words Father mentioned in his homily was St. Teresa of Avila. St. Teresa compared remorse and repentance. These ideas make a wonderful “examination of conscience.” Remorse is a deep, but brief, sorrow for wrongdoing. Repentance, on the other hand, recognizes the evil and moves forward to change and not repeat the wrongdoing.
How many times have I experienced deep remorse, gone to confession, done penance, gone home and committed the same sin, and returned to the confessional to repeat the same confession? Have I truly repented of that sin? “Not just yet.”
God knows our fallen nature. He forgives us as many times as we run to him and beg forgiveness. But we must not be like the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35 who begged the king for mercy and was then unmerciful to his fellow servant. He had remorse for not paying the king back what he owed–for fear of his just punishment–but he clearly hadn’t repented. Jesus teaches us,
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart. (Mt 32-35)
During this holy season of Advent, let us not be remorseful, making temporary resolutions. Let us grow in holiness, learning from the saints, seeking to be truly repentant, “to avoid sin and to amend my life. Amen.”