In his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s protagonist embraces a life of complete hedonism, participating in any debauchery that presents itself. His saving grace, or so he thinks, is that his face is not affected by his sins: he still looks young and beautiful and believes people perceive him as such. It’s only the picture in his attic that shows the depths of his degradation.
It’s a great example of the delusion most of us hold when we think of our sins. I’m not such a bad person, people like me. I may forget to pray some days, and sometimes I have to skip Mass (if I have someplace to go). I’m not sure when I went to Confession last, but then, I don’t have any mortal sins to confess. I look pretty good–no one needs to know about my anger at my neighbor, or my skimming from petty cash at work.
We’re like the pseudo-righteous in today’s gospel, keeping up appearances for the praise of others. It can be difficult in our clean, well-fed, comfortable world to think we need to repent. Our ‘’problems” aren’t sins–they’re addictions or genetically predetermined personality traits, or hey–what’s the big deal— culturally normalized behavior.
In his mercy, God gives us Ash Wednesday, a day to remember that we are on our way to death–to dust we shall return. The Church proclaims a fast so we can rediscover how far short we fall from God’s glory, and how much we need redemption.
Our lives, not to mention our world, will never be transformed if we don’t see our need for penance that leads to the conversion of heart and deeds of righteousness. In his apostolic exhortation on Penance and Reconciliation, St. John Paul II wrote: ‘Penance is …a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds and then to the Christian’s whole life.” This Lent, ask God to open your heart to penance, so that you will be reconciled to him, and then to our brothers and sisters. Some day, the picture in the attic will be revealed.
Pamela joined Diocesan’s staff in 2006, after a number of years in the non-profit sector. Her experience is in non-profit administration including management, finance, and program development, along with database management and communications. She was a catechist in her parish RCIA program for over 15 years, as well as chairperson of their Liturgy Commision. Received into the Catholic Church as an adult, Pamela’s faith formation was influenced by her Mennonite extended family, her Baptist childhood, and her years as a Reformed Presbyterian (think Scott Hahn).