It’s easy to confuse two of the words used about the Lenten season: penitence and repentance. The first deals with a feeling we might have about something or a situation we know has or is going wrong and the wish to correct it. Used this way we say we feel “penitent”. There may be specific times for this say, at the Ash Wednesday or Good Friday services. Or we may feel this way in reflection about some event or relationship in our lives at any time.
Repentence is more important, and is sometimes tied to penitence. Repentance in the biblical meaning of the word means to drastically change direction. It has a much bigger connotation. Repentance is like a hiker hiking in the White Mountains where it’s rugged and challenging. The hiker comes to confusing trail junction and chooses a path only to discover after a few miles it’s been curving off in the opposite direction. Back at that junction it was hard to tell where it was going and the hiker took the path that looked like it would get to the campsite. Instead the hiker now needs to turn around completely and go back to the junction and get on the right path, going the direction that is best.
This is Marcus Borg’s sense of repentance in his book about Christian language called “Speaking Christian”. Repentance is realizing that your life path is going wrong, that it’s bringing you where you do not want to go. It is an inner recognition that ties in to a deeper sense of self. Sometimes this has less do with a particular job or where we live or choice of vocation and more to do with “how” we’re doing our job, living our lives or finding our vocation. It may be the recognition that our current path is hurting us or those we love, or the world around us, that it’s bringing us places we don’t really want to visit. It can be profoundly personal but is often tied to our sense of the community around us and is a shared realization. Repentance in this sense expands our notion of this season and helps us view it more as a time of assessment and understanding. Is this where I want to be? Is this how I want to go? Is this the kind of life I want? Can I change it? …. Fr. Dave