by Frank Muller
One of the challenges we face today is the loss of vocabulary. Particularly here in America we have reduced discreet words into synonyms in order to mask a small vocabulary. That is, we use several different words that to both the speaker and most recipients mean the same things.
Hence, the rhetorical question is why have different words? Well, the answer is simple. Words matter and so do their meanings and it is by this loss of vocabulary that it becomes likely we begin to inadvertently cooperate with falsehood and errant teachings on important subjects.
Let us deal with the subjects of regret and repentance. So often we hear in normal discourse many people making an apology for an accidental slight. If this apology is a proactive assertion recognizing the harm, we may have done unintentionally then we feel regret and offer an apology. This apology meets a basic standard of justice is the apology is prompt and sincere. However, if the slight caused real harm, then we all know there is another level we must go and that is reimbursing the aggrieved for their damages.
However, when one engages in a willful act of slighting someone this rises to another level. Should the perpetrator proactively recognize their fault then it is normal for a well-formed conscience to not just feel regret and apologize but also do what? That is what repentance is. Repentance means we do two things 1) We atone for our transgression by a willing sacrifice to help the aggrieved party by making it right 2) A firm resolution to not do that again that comforts the victim that no other person will be harmed in that manner in the future.
We all intuitively understand this basic notion of individual justice and communal justice. When an act is intentional and harmful it demands more than regret, it demands repentance and without that justice is not satisfied and the harmed party remains aggrieved even if there was a regretful apology and rightly so.
We all know the hollowness of a person’s apology only when they are caught. Without repentance, those who hid the truth and then only apologize are doubly down on the sin. This unfortunately is the world we are swept up into.
This concept divides the world because without the separate concepts of regret and of repentance we will split into blaming or justifying our sin to the other of our own actions, lying or covering up our actual intent, and making counter accusations that seek to counter the brunt of the aggrieved parties’ claims. And this is the art form that has now become popular to offer apologies and demand the victim show mercy without compensation and without a firm resolution by the guilty party to sin no more in this manner.
Worse yet, when we lose the sense of repentance not only is the victim aggrieved but so is the perpetrator. Both suffer and in many cases’ the perpetrator after a lifetime of intentional sinning and showing only regret (if that) begins to self-mutilate, self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, or seeks love in wanton lust like pornography, fornication, adultery and more…. This is why we have so many stories of victims rebounding to lives of joy but victimizers spirally into a whirlwind of selfish hate.
This dystopia is now played out on television sets, living rooms, classrooms, the workplace, and yes even at Church. In today’s culture we like to think this dystopia is a recent phenomenon but sadly it is not. It occurs in every generation amongst all peoples and at all times. We should not for a second succumb to the lie that this time is different.
This principal of regret and repentance is featured prominently in Sacred Scripture and yet time after time generations still miss the point. Let us examine the stories of Judas and Peter and the events leading up to the capture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
Most of us have heard the story. Judas sells out his Lord and Master for 30 silver pieces. Stung by regret over his intentional act of betrayal his focus turns to selfishness. His first reaction is to go blame the Pharisee’s for this and to justify himself he throws back the money as the Pharisees scoff knowing that the effort is misplaced. Instead of turning towards the aggrieved he turns inward and eventually takes the most selfish path of all which is suicide (which we see out in our world daily).
Peter on the other hand returns to the Apostles and confesses his sins (just as they confessed their own betrayal and abandonment of their Lord and Master) with the exception of the young teenager John (story for another day about he and Mary the Mother of Jesus). He chooses to remain and to focus on those he was placed in charge of.
When the Lord appears to Peter, he is overcome with grief as the Lord asks him three times “do you love me?” What is important to note is that Jesus uses the word “agape” which means complete love. However, Peter replies that he loves Jesus in “Philleo” love which means it is not complete love but simply the best he can do. Jesus accepts that act of honesty and says it is enough.
He is then commanded to ‘feed his sheep” which is the service (or repentance) that Peter is to perform in service to his Lord. This reconciles the two. After the descent of the Holy Spirit this reckless and broken man was transformed into the Rock upon which the Church of Jesus Christ was built. This apostle and his successors have secured the unbroken continuation of the Roman Catholic Church for 2000 years.
Repentance means to “change” and “to turn away”. Peter from this moment on now boldly proclaims the Gospel. The reckless man with false bravado now stands defiant in peace and love and more than 3000 people profess their Faith and are baptized in the name of the Trinity in short order. Peter turns from self-regret and turns towards the others placed into his care and to the one he aggrieved and worked tirelessly to make it right because he loves Jesus, and he loves his Apostolic friends more than he loves himself.
Judas suffers not just temporal death in despair but spiritual death in despair as well. Peter lives a life of joy and suffers a martyr’s death in that joy. One chooses regret, the other chose repentance.
Let us not confuse in our daily lives the notions of regret and repentance and their contextualization. This is one of the reasons why Jesus had such compassion for sinners but not only was the sin a disordering of life but what separates people from joy is the act of repentance. Apology – yes. Recompense – yes. Repentance -yes, a firm resolution to turn away from sin
This gives mercy to the sinner, justice for the aggrieved and both now are set free to love. How many times must we forgive? Infinite. How many times will we fail? Many, but all we have to do is apologize without equivocation, repair the damage we did, and change our ways. The only way to joy is to rid ourselves of or self-absorption and to immerse ourselves in loving our Creator and others.
Regret alone ultimately is selfish. Repentance is ultimately love.