[Recently] I received a phone call from a friend who wanted to talk about the nature of repentance. It was a life-giving conversation. Last night, I received a phone call from someone, unrelated to the call the night before, who wanted to talk about, well — repentance. Clearly, people are interested in this all important word that is essential to our conversion and transformation in Christ (cf. Mt 3:8, 11; Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3, 8, 5:32, 15:7, 24:47).
Repentance comes from the Greek metanoia, which literally translates a “change of mind”–a conversion of heart away from sin and towards God.
In order for this twofold movement of contrition and resolve to effect change, it must be genuine; lest we go through the motions of appearing contrite (sorry for our sin), and actual resolve to change never matures into much of anything. Being genuine is to be honest with who we are in our nature. The word itself comes from the Latin genuinus, which best translates as “native, natural, and innate”. The person who is genuine, is innately aware of original sin (inclination to sin due to our fallen nature), and by the grace of God, comes to grips with their need for God. The root word to the aforementioned genuinus is genu, which translates as “knee”. On bended knee we will abide in all that is genuine–never judging ourselves to be smaller or larger than we actually are, but seeing ourselves for who we are—sinners in need of a Savior; sons and daughters of God, by virtue of grace, loved by God. Essentially, being genuine is to be humble and honest.
Honesty abides in the virtue of truthfulness. To be truthful is to speak about something for what it is, according to how we see it and understand it. There is no second step towards being genuine, without the first step of being truthful. No truthfulness, no subsequent steps that effect change. For example, if I have an addiction to alcohol, and claim that I do not have an addiction to alcohol, I will never take the necessary steps to overcome my addiction to alcohol. My first step in overcoming my addiction to alcohol is to admit that I have an addiction to alcohol.
In the broader entertainment context, I have never known a professional athlete, musician, or actor, who in the absence of being truthful about what they needed to work on to hone their craft, was successful in their profession. The likes of a Tom Brady, Taylor Swift, and Meryl Streep, are successful in their craft to the extent they identify what they need to work on, and accordingly, put forth the effort to work on it.
Likewise, if we are going to go deeper in the spiritual life, we must be truthful about those aspects of our life that we need to change. Then, and only then, can we take the necessary steps to be changed for the better. Being genuine always includes being truthful.
Only genuine contrition–contrition that abides in the humble, honest, and truthful heart, awakens the soul in its depth.
By way of closing reflection, let us ask ourselves a couple of questions: How many times have we said, “I am sorry”, and without really meaning it, grow distant in our relationships? Conversely, how many times have we said, “I am sorry”, and with meaning it, have grown closer in our relationships. In other words, when saying, “I am sorry”, we must mean what we say and say what we mean, if we are going to draw closer in our relationships. And if we wish to advance in our relationship with Jesus Christ, going deeper in the spiritual life, we must say, “I am sorry”, and mean it. Genuine resolve is at stake!