Divine goodness and perpetual repentance

“No ancient spiritual writer is more earnest in urging meditation on divine goodness than Mark the Hermit, the preacher of perpetual repentance. One wonders if he had not reversed the traditional order of virtues when he recommended that Nicholas begin with the perpetual remembrance of God’s benefits. All he was really asking was that ‘godly sorrow’ go together with thanksgiving…You cannot have one without the other. Penthos [i.e. compunction, or mourning for lost salvation] without thanksgiving would be despair, sorrow that was not godly, while thanksgiving without repentance would be presumptuous illusion.”

Irénée Hausherr, SJ, Penthos: The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East

There is a great deal to learn from this reversal. Too often, Christians dig such a deep pit for ourselves with our doctrines of sin that we have difficulty climbing out, even though we know we have Christ at our side. Beginning from the divine goodness saves us from the temptation of despair. It has the additional benefit of showing us the depth of our sin more clearly. Only in the light of Christ, who loves all people without exception or reservation, do we see how frail and petty and self-absorbed we can be. There is a risk of thanksgiving without repentance, and some seem so mesmerized by human potential that they fail to see our manifold shortcomings, but the real risk often lies on the other side. This could form the subject for profound meditation the next time the Body of Christ is pressed into our outstretched hands. Without for a minute doubting that the Gift is really given, how might the Lord’s generosity point us to the ways that we are closed off from God and neighbor? How much more do we need to receive before his love takes root in us?

Bill Carroll

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