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Were You There: Practicing Repentance

Fr. Joe Nangle_featured image

Editor’s note: Father Joseph Nangle OFM reflects on how the season of Lent is a time to practice awareness, repentance, and change, not only for personal failings but for broader societal injustices as well.

Since my years on overseas mission, the Lenten season of penance has always signified much more than a personal expression of repentance for me. Recognizing my need for God’s mercy, I strive to approach this liturgical time of retreat with spiritual reading, reflection, and an attitude of quiet (for example, I do not turn on the TV or listen to the radio). But my experiences on mission—of extreme and generalized poverty, exclusion, and marginalization—have awakened in me a much larger horizon.

As a member of the human family and one baptized into Christ’s Paschal Mystery, I seem to become increasingly aware each year of the need for what might be called “political repentance.” By “political” I surely do not mean party politics in the narrow sense, but “political” in its root meaning: the condition of the “polis,” the people.

The quiet of my Lenten days helps me to an awareness of the need that humanity has for God’s mercy. As part of a flawed and often violent, unjust world, I find myself ever more inclined to pray God’s forgiveness for such sins as world hunger, wars that are raging in so many places on our planet, humanity’s role in destroying our sacred environment—the list goes on and on. While not my personal sins or fault, still I am a part of it all and am, to some extent, responsible for it before God.

Another opportunity for “political repentance” comes as minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Consistently and increasingly, I find myself suggesting to people who approach this sacrament that we all begin to seek God’s pardon for specific examples of social sin: the refugee children, suffering populations in places like Syria and Afghanistan, polluted water in Flint, Michigan… Again, the list is ever so long.

As Lent draws us nearer to the dramatic remembrance of Jesus’ agony and execution, I am mindful of what I believe was the overriding cause of His suffering and death: his threat to the unjust status quo of his country. The powerful Jewish religious and civic leaders gathered in council and expressed their fear that “if we let this man [Jesus} go on like this, everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and the nation.” (John 11:48). Their verdict then is summed up in the words of the Chief Priest, Caiaphas: “it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (Verse 50) John concludes this narrative saying, “So from that day on they planned to put him to death.” (Verse 53)

Lent reminds me again that this is the person we follow during these 40 days and throughout our lives.

Reflection Question: Take some time today to reflect, pray, and ask God’s forgiveness for a social injustice you see happening around you. How can you work for social change today?

Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM served twelve years as the Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service. He spent fifteen years as a missioner in Bolivia and Peru and is currently engaged in ministry to the Hispanic community of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Virginia. Fr. Joe is also a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, DC, an intentional Catholic community of lay and religious men and women dedicated to a simple life-style and social change.