2016 has been quite the year. A tremendous amount of grace was outpoured with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, mixed with the human evils of wars, terrorism, and crazy election cycles. It’s left my heart spinning a bit, actually, the idea that so much grace can come forth in the midst of so much darkness. But we shouldn’t be surprised, because this is how God has operated since the beginning of time. And this is how our own hearts work, too - an incredible combination of grace and sin, strength and brokenness.
So at the end of this year, and every year, it’s always best to take stock, reflect, repent, and resolve. The practice of doing an examination of conscience at the end of every year was so beautifully encouraged by Pope Francis during a Vespers homily on December 31, 2014:
“Holy Mother Church teaches us to end the year and also our days with an examination of conscience, through which we review what has happened: we thank the Lord for every good we have received and have been able to do and, at the same time, we think again of our failings and our sins — to be grateful and to ask for forgiveness.
[We ask] ourselves: how do we live? Do we live as children or as slaves?... A great Italian artist said a few days ago that it was easier for the Lord to take the Israelites out of Egypt than Egypt from the heart of the Israelites. Yes, they were liberated materially from slavery, but during the march in the desert with the various difficulties and hunger they began to feel nostalgia for Egypt where they ate onions and garlic (Numbers 11:5); they forgot, however, that they ate them at the table of slavery.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves: are we free or are we slaves, are we salt and light? Are we leaven? Or are we spent, insipid, hostile, discouraged, insignificant, tired? In concluding this year, in giving thanks and in asking for forgiveness, it will do us good to ask for the grace to be able to walk in freedom in order to repair the many damages and to defend ourselves from the nostalgia of slavery.”
Wow, go back and read that again. It was easier for God to part the Red Sea than to get the Israelites to stop complaining in the desert, even while they were being fed the miraculous manna each morning. I’m sure there were times this year that we complained and doubted, when we chose not to love, even when the manna was right in front of us.
Due to our free will, God can only enter our hearts when we allow Him to, which is why his mission was to preach repentance. When we hear the word repentance, what comes to mind? I think of the Old Testament with sackcloth and ashes, penance and fasting. But it’s so much deeper than that. The Greek word for repentance used in the New Testament is metanoia - which means an intentional change of mind or conversion of heart. Metanoia can be seen as a positive instead of a negative - leaving behind an old way of thinking or believing and being led to something greater.
Every Ash Wednesday, we hear God speaking through the prophet Joel, calling the Israelites to “rend your hearts, not your garments” in their fasting and repentance. If we only do the outward motions without a deeper conversion of heart, we will keep falling into the same sins over and over again. It is through true repentance that God can then “give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
Some of the Apostles in the Gospel experienced metanoia in a single instant - one of those “drop everything and follow Him” moments. While some of us may have had those moments as well, for most of us it’s more of a gradual process. And we’re still never finished. Metanoia is a constant, lifelong process, a way of life.
As we reflect on this past year, in our victories and failings, let us look at it through the lense of metanoia. Let us ask for forgiveness, and look to make reparation for our sins. The best way we can do this is by going to Confession, the fount of mercy. We can also pray prayers of reparation, for our own sinfulness or for the world’s. And let us ask to be made new.
Reflect: Reflect on this past year, using Pope Francis’ words as a guide - “[Did] we live as children or as slaves? [Did] we live as baptized persons in Christ, anointed by the Spirit, rescued and free? Or [did] we live according to the world?”
Act: If you feel you need to, go to confession and ask for forgiveness. Then, more importantly, allow His mercy to wash over you and seep into your soul, asking for a clean heart as we start the new year. Make an act of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.