First Sunday of Lent: The Gift of Repentance

February 18, 2024 | Emmjolee Mendoza Waters | Today’s Readings

“Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15)


My daughter Cina, who is 8, had her first reconciliation a few weeks ago.
We practiced the act of contrition, went over what the priest would say and do, and talked about what it means to make mistakes and hurt others. We also discussed what it means to receive God’s love and grace. Cina asked questions and expressed her fear — the fear of the unknown and what happens after she confesses her sins.
I know Cina’s fear and anxiety. I still feel that way every time I go to confession.
However, I also know what it feels like to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. There is a lightness I feel when my burdens are lifted. I know that reconciliation brings me closer to Christ. The grace I receive instills a deep desire to be a better person for others — to be a light.
In my short six months with Catholic Mobilizing Network, I’ve been challenged by the fact that eight men have lost their lives to the injustice of capital punishment. When I think of the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness in my life, I can’t help but think that we as a country have deprived those on death row of these gifts, and the opportunity to  experience redemption.
I don’t know when a person who has committed a grave harm feels the call to repent and ask God for forgiveness. But I do know that because of God’s grace, every individual has the opportunity to be a better person for others, to be a light to the world. When we take the life of those on death row, we take away that opportunity for redemption. We extinguish their light. 
It doesn’t have to be that way. 

I can’t help but think of William Speer, a man living on death row in Texas. This past October, hours before he was to be executed, William received a stay of execution, sparing his life.
William is not the same 16-year-old person he was when he committed his crime. He is a reformed and changed man.
He participated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Rehabilitation Programs Division as the first inmate coordinator. During the 18-month rehabilitation program, he worked with 28 people on death row by leading religious services and weekly classes.

William continues to be a light to the world, even in the dark spaces of death row. Who are we to extinguish that?
As we enter this first week of Lent, I am challenged by Jesus’ call to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” It’s a reminder that it is not enough to only repent. We must live out the gospel call to love others. Through God’s grace, we have the strength to do this.
As my daughter Cina prepares for her first Holy Communion this spring, I pray that she will always know the gift of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. I pray that she will have the time and freedom to reconcile with God and have the opportunity to be a light to the world.

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