Praying through Repentance – Advent 2021


Ryan discusses the meaning of the gift of repentance and how this can be incorporated in prayer and in your daily life. He reminds us of the magnitude of asking for forgiveness and how this will ultimately bring us a life closer to God. 

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

“Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

Acts 3:19
  • Ryan points out that it can be uncomfortable to think about our failures and flaws. How do you typically react if someone confronts you about something you’ve done wrong? How can you work on viewing knowledge of your faults as a positive thing?

  • Repenting of our sins is something we need to do on a continual basis in order to be forgiven and to find healing. In what areas of your life do you need healing? How might seeking repentance influence those areas?

  • By practicing repentance, we can grow in many ways, including empathy, self-knowledge, patience, and humility. Which of these areas do you need to grow in most?

  • There are a number of ways we might incorrectly think of Jesus. We should think of Him as He truly is, as our Savior. How do you typically think of Jesus? How can you work on thinking of Him more as a Savior in your life?

Text Version

Hi, my name is Ryan O’Hara and this is talk number two on repentance for the Pray More Novena’s Advent Retreat. Let’s begin with a prayer.

Opening Prayer

In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. God, we give you thanks for who you are as loving and merciful. And for all that you’ve done to draw us back into relationship with you, for we have sinned, and we’ve turned away and in doing so, you’ve made a way back into relationship with you through your Son, Jesus, and the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to grow in this gift, this grace of repentance to bring it more and more into our lives each and every day. In Jesus name, we pray father, son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Call Out

I don’t know about you, but if you’re like me, you don’t love it if someone else points out one of your flaws. Nobody likes this and I’d say we get defensive at best or combative, actually combative at worst. And it’s like once that happens, this sort of guerrilla warfare and not gratitude starts to take place. It may not come out strongly, but boy, something is stirring up inside of us when someone points out one of our flaws.

But you know what? If I’m honest though, really, as I’ve looked back on my life, probably the most important… Some of the most important turning points in my life, some of the points where life really changed began to change for the better was when someone who was close to me or someone I was in a good relationship with had the courage to speak a difficult word to me, had a courage to correct me, or call me on to a better way of life. And this happened, I can think of numerous times.

First of all, my dad. When I was in college and admittedly, my freshman year, I was majoring in bad grades, bad beer and bad relationships. And we had a talk, and my parents were investing a lot of money and it was July 31st, 1993. I still have it to this day. My dad wrote out a contract that the two of us would sign. Basically, it was an agreement to get my act together and change my approach to college. And that call-out was actually the beginning of my conversion. It was actually the next year to year and a half, where once I was getting some things in order in my personal life, it kind of created the ground where my spiritual life could grow as well.

And so that was one particular conversation. Other men who have challenged me to grow in purity, or even what do I wear at mass? I’m a leader in the church. I think I ought to take a look at how I dress in church. And these were humbling, these were difficult conversations, but really, really important ones.

And so, what if we… I mean, maybe you’ve had that experience in your own life. We don’t like it and we don’t look forward to it. Maybe we don’t ask for it, but when we take a look at what isn’t working and someone can help point that out, it’s really an opportunity for growth if we look at it in the right way. And I would love to accelerate that process in my life.

The Gift of Repentance

And I think repentance really gets at it, the gift of repentance, of turning away from our sins and turning towards God. And I think sometimes maybe we associate repentance with two things in the Church. First confession, confession is kind of the time for repentance. I don’t know, depending on how often you go though, that may not happen very many times during the year. I want to go about every month, but right now it’s about every six weeks or so and you really start feeling it. Have you had that experience? There’s a certain amount of time that once you go beyond it, you know it’s time to go to confession, but that’s not every day. So, it doesn’t make that a regular part of our life. The other time where we see repentance clearly in the Church year is Ash Wednesday and repent and believe in the gospel as we’re crossed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, or this last year, maybe some of us were sprinkled with ashes for the first time on our heads during COVID.

So those were kind of the two times where repentance comes up, but I wonder what would happen if we chose to repent of our sins to speak them out loud more regularly. Now of course we know like with the sacrament of confession, that’s primarily to deal with mortal sin. So, I wouldn’t think it would be great to confess mortal sin day after day after day, and sort of not move toward the sacrament, but just in general, whether it is mortal sin on one day or venial sins spread throughout, how would that practice make an impact on our lives?

Humble Yourself and Pray

Well, in our pray method, we first start with praise, but then it’s followed by repentance, R for repentance. And we see this in the scriptures in… Well, actually all throughout. There’s so many different scriptures we could use, but one that really strikes me as kind of fitting what we’re talking about here. I’m actually going to read it right here. Two Chronicles 7:14. It says “If my people called by my name would humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn away from their wicked ways that I will hear them. God is saying I will hear them from heaven, I will forgive their sins and I will heal their land.”

That’s in part what we stand to gain. Not just the forgiveness of our own sins, but the healing of our land, the healing of our relationships and the healing of the way that we relate as a community of people, even more as cities and towns, or even as a country that perhaps repentance is a way to healing in our own life and healing corporately. And so, I think we have a lot to learn from and to grow in when it comes to the gift of repentance.

Repentance in Prayer

But what does this actually look like in prayer? When it comes time to pray, as I said, imagine we’ve read the gospel and again, we’ll look at Luke three 10 to 18, but let’s say you’ve read the gospel for the day and you’ve given God praise for who He is and thanked Him for what He has done, both what you see in the reading and what you would like just to express in your own life. We get to this part of repentance, and I’d say it’s twofold. It’s confessing where we need mercy and confessing where we ought to become mercy. So, confessing where we need mercy in our own lives and confessing where we ought to become mercy for others in our own lives.

And so it’s these two fold movements sort of asking God for mercy, confessing those areas of sin in our life. And let’s use even the penitential right from the liturgy to kind of give us some language around this. I think you want to ask yourself the question. So, you’re getting ready to repent. You’ve noted those scenes of repentance in the reading let’s say, but then you want to ask yourself a question. Based on what I have done or what I have failed to do, Where was I motivated by something other than the love of God and the love of others? Based on what I’ve done and what I’ve failed to do, where have I been motivated by something other than the love of God or the love of others?

And you know, I think it’s actually in that moment when you ask yourself a question like that, that you shouldn’t just rush into it, should just take a moment to kind of think about that morning, to think about the night before, to think about the previous day. I’m mentioning the morning because that’s when I pray, but you can pray at whatever time of day works best for you.

So, think about the last 24 hours since the last time you prayed. What have you done, or what did you fail to do that wasn’t motivated by the love of God or the love of others? And just begin to express that and express it in such a way that you say God, I am sorry for X. Please forgive me. I don’t want to do that again. I want to grow in this area. Talk to God about each of those things that come up.

So not only are we confessing where we need mercy and I think that the Church’s language in the liturgy can really help us. We also need to look at where we need to extend mercy, where we need to be mercy, or where we might need to ask someone to forgive us. That’s really in the first part, but where we need to offer forgiveness to others who have heard us. And so I think it’s helpful to ask yourself, how have you been treated in a way where the love of God and your own good wasn’t what the other person was motivated by? Where have you been hurt in relationship? Maybe nothing’s happened in the last 24 hours or the last 48 hours, but it doesn’t take too long to experience the bumps and bruises of daily life. And really, forgiveness is a choice that we can make. And we may need to ask God for the grace to forgive someone else, but it is a choice that we can make from our hearts.

And of course, Our Father says, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. So, there’s a condition there that our forgiveness is based on our willingness to forgive others and to not hold them hostage in that way. And so, this becomes a really important piece of our spiritual life. And I know for me, for most of my time growing up as a Catholic, I might’ve, we’ll talk about asking next, but asking was kind of the only way that I knew how to talk to God. It didn’t involve praise and it didn’t involve repentance. And so this is a really, I think, important step for us to grow in.

Luke 3:10-18

So, let’s take a look at the Gospel. How would the Gospel from the third Sunday of Advent, Luke three 10 to 18, feel free to pull that scripture up in the Bible, Luke three, 10 to 18, how would that apply here? Where do we see perhaps an opportunity to repent being inspired by the scripture? Well, it’s actually really quite appropriate. Again, the crowds are forming around John the Baptist and they’re asking him what are we to do in light of this call to repentance?

And he gives three examples. The first one he says, for those of you who have basically clothing or food to share, you need to do so for those around you that don’t have clothing or food. And so again, he’s going right at stinginess, and selfishness. And then he’s talking to tax collectors and soldiers, people who are in positions of authority or power, and he’s exhorting them not to use or abuse their power for personal gain or otherwise. And so that we need to look at our own lives, our own work even, and where is there integrity and how do we lead with other’s best interests in mind and not simply self gain. Great opportunities for repentance right here in this Gospel.

And so what’s at stake? What do we stand to gain if we get this right? Well, I would say there’s a few things. Something like patience, compassion, empathy, self-knowledge, again, humility, but above all, I think we actually stand to grow in love for God because when the woman… When Jesus is meeting with the Pharisees and the woman greets Him at the door and breaks open that alabaster jar and anoints Him and washes His feet with her hair. And Jesus says right then and there that those who love much are forgiven much.

And so there’s a connection between our love for God and the opportunity to be forgiven of much. So we can grow in love as we grow in a willingness to turn away from sin, but we can grow in patience with ourselves and with others. We can grow in compassion. When we’re naming the things that we’re missing the mark on every single day in our life, I think that speck perhaps in our own eye gets a little bit smaller, rather let me try it the other way. The speck in the other person’s eye gets smaller and smaller because we realize ours is bigger and bigger. We grow in empathy. We can kind of in a sense understand better maybe what other people are struggling with, but then we grow in self knowledge and that is a great thing. It’s a great way to grow as a disciple to know thyself is a really critical step, to change thyself.

And so, here’s really where we stand to gain. And yet think about the opposite. What if we don’t grow in repentance, we would lack a certain patience. We could lack a certain patience with others. We could lack compassionate and gracious response to others. We could not be empathetic. And we kind of are walled off from a certain part of ourselves, and we may not grow as quickly in love of God. And so, it’s really critical this step in our pray method, following praise that of repentance.

Who is Jesus in Your Life?

And so, I want to leave you again with a question. Who is Jesus in your life? Who is Jesus in your life? Now what happens whether we’ve had good or bad catechesis or the movies we watch, or the homilies that we hear or how we experienced faith growing up, there’s a lot of different ways in which our image of Jesus gets formulated. And sometimes we’re kind of off. I certainly know I was. Each one of these things I’m about to share, each of these sort of wrong images of Jesus I’ve experienced in my own life as well.

Wrong Images of Jesus

So, the first thing I think most popular wrong image of Jesus is that of Jesus as Santa Claus. That He’s basically here, God is here, Jesus is here just to give me what I want when I want it. He’s not there to make any demands on my life. He’s not really going to give me any coal, but he’s here to make me happy. And that’s Santa Claus for you. The worldly understanding, not Saint Nicholas, but how the world thinks about Santa Claus. So that’s the first wrong image.

The second wrong image is Jesus as a statistician. And what that means is that he’s there primarily to police you and to kind of keep track of all of your good behaviors and your bad behaviors and you’re kind of just hoping there’s more good than bad kind of going about life day to day and that Jesus is really there just to kind of keep track of your sins. And hopefully you just have a few more good things that earns you your way to heaven. This, of course, isn’t true. It’s a wrong image, but it’s a lot of the ways in which we think about Jesus.

Another way that we think about Jesus is as social security. That getting serious about my faith or taking Jesus seriously, that’s for later, that’s probably for my grandma or my grandpa or somebody else who’s a lot older than I am. That’s really who Jesus is for something that will matter later in my life. But again, Jesus, there’s a great urgency. Even when He came to earth, that repent He says for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, but I want to offer you one right image and that is Jesus as savior. And that He’s done something for us, saved us from our sin that we couldn’t do for ourselves and that as Lord, He has become someone for us that we should never be for ourselves, that is the Lord and leader of our life.

And so, this gift of repentance is based around who Jesus truly is and the magnitude of His love for us and the magnitude of His mercy. Pope Francis says that God never tires of forgiving us. And so that means we should never be tired of asking for forgiveness even every single day of our life, let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God, we give you thanks and praise for your love for us, your unending mercy, and your willingness to offer your life so that we could be forgiven of our sins. Bring us into a deeper relationship with the Father through the gift of repentance and Holy Spirit, stir up your wisdom and the presence of God within us to quicken our spirits to say no to sin and to say yes to whatever God wants. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus and the Father, name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

About Ryan O’Hara

Ryan O’Hara serves as the Content Director for Saint Paul’s Outreach, a national Catholic organization that ministers to college students on campus. He is passionate about seeing Catholics come alive in Christ, grow to spiritual maturity and become apostles to the people in their life. Ryan has a B.A. in History from William Jewell College and an M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. He and his wife Jill live in West St Paul, MN and are parents to four sons.