2 March, Wednesday — A Call to Repentance

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18
2 Cor 5:20-6:2
Mt 6:1-6;16-18

Now, now — it is the Lord who speaks — come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.’ Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again…

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday. The word ‘shrove’ is taken from the word ‘shrive’, which means to receive absolution. Shrove Tuesday is also commonly known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras — yeah, I know you knew this one. I like all 3 names because together, they all encapsulate the Lenten season of repentance after an overindulgence. And this year’s Ash Wednesday comes close on the heels of the Lunar New Year period, which came quite soon after the Christmas season. Truly an indulgence which must now be forfeited. This is now the season for repentance.

The passage from Joel about repentance is rather dramatic. In the wake of a locust plague, Joel exhorts repentance. The image he conjures, of weeping and mourning, of fasting, rending of hearts, sounds terribly sorrowful. But if we think about it, repentance IS hard. Much, much harder than indulging in sin and falling in weakness. Repentance is difficult. Because of our Pride, which makes us feel ashamed both of having been wrong, and of having been weak.  

In the books I’ve read, I have come across many villainous characters who are predictably unrepentant to the end. The White Witch, Voldemort, Saruman, the list goes on. They all met bitter ends which they chose, when they decided to continue down the path of darkness instead of turning back to the light. There is however, one well-written and complex character (not a villain!) whom I have a soft spot for and who, in his very human and quite relatable story, shows his fall into sin, contrition, confession, atonement, and redemption — Boromir from The Lord of The Rings.    

Boromir had a massive weight on his shoulders. He needed to save his kingdom of Gondor from destruction. After some time, he got to hear about the Ring, which was possibly the most powerful weapon ever that can defeat the enemy. Any reasonable person would jump at it, let alone a soldier and captain of extraordinary courage, bravery, and love for his people. But Boromir was dissuaded, and told that the Ring is too evil to be wielded without the user falling to its dark power.  

And now comes the realness of Boromir: these people telling him how dangerous the Ring is have never been on the frontlines of Gondor, which lay right next to Mordor. To him, the danger of the Ring is pure myth. These people, these Elves, have absolutely zero clue about his desperate reality, and here they are casually telling him “Nope, do not use this powerful weapon against your enemy, just take the long and winding path to destroy it and your enemy will be destroyed together with it.” Sounds familiar? Everyone with good intentions will tell us the correct thing to do. But as far as we are concerned, they do not understand our realities and our immediate concerns. 

While Boromir acquiesces to the eventual plan to destroy the Ring and joins the fellowship, he did try to wrest the Ring from Frodo — this is his sin.  -How easily we fall to our weaknesses and fears after holding off temptation for so long. How easily we shrug off the idea of God’s greater plan in favour of fulfilling our own immediate desires. How easily we follow temptation down the path of darkness.  

Boromir then catches himself, is ashamed, and atones for his sin in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of redemption. He single handedly fights off numerous orcs to save Merry and Pippin, and eventually falls. He confesses when Aragorn finds him: “I tried to take the ring from Frodo. I am sorry. I have paid.” He is contrite, he confessed, he atoned. He continues to say, “I have failed”. But Aragorn affirms him with “No! You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace!”. So instead of dying in despair, thinking himself a failure, Boromir died in peace with the assurance that he had won a victory over himself, a victory over his weakness — a victory over sin.   

It has been 2 years since the pandemic. 2 years of being away from Mass and the sacraments. 2 years of fear and anxiety, of hopelessness, lifelessness. With the easing of restrictions, now is as good a time as any to make a clean slate of things. However, most of us feel unworthy. It is human to feel that way. It is human to feel like “I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as to go o’er”. These words were spoken by Macbeth, another ‘villain’ that I feel sorry for. The sense of despair and shame is strong when we start to peel back the layers of our sins and realise how deep they go. This makes the choice to repent difficult. But the choice to be damned is also difficult, so choose carefully.

It comes down to Pride versus Humility. Can we, like Boromir, shed our pride and admit to our failures and weaknesses? Or will we stubbornly stick to our wrongfulness, and sink deeper into sin and despair? As we examine our conscience, keep in mind this quote from Saint Josemaria Escriva: “Looking back on the past. To bewail it? No: that would be useless. To learn: that is useful.” We can learn from our mistakes and our journey back from sin. We can become stronger from this. Instead of seeing Lent as a period of giving up the bad, why not see Lent also as a time for gaining the good?

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, the period of preparation and repentance. As we take the time to call to mind our sins, remember that nothing we have done is so bad that we cannot be redeemed. We have already been redeemed. Now all we need to do is go out there, confess, be contrite, and make reparations. Although confronting our sins is heart-rendingly difficult, we need to make the choice to face them. The Devil wants to chain us with our shame, and so we need to marshal up the humility to break these chains ourselves in order to break out of the cycle of sin and death. Our priests are more than happy to hear our confessions, so make an appointment today! 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)

Prayer: (Act of Contrition) O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.

Thanksgiving: (Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas) Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.

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