The Unrepentant Thief: 5 Ways We Enter Repentance in Lent

A special liturgical season rolls in once more and we have the opportunity to receive mercy through repentance in lent.



Three Crosses

Although the door to repentance is wide open, it is a very tiny door.  We have to be very small to find it, and even smaller to enter it.  Repentance can only begin with humility. Canadian author Michael O’Brien in his epic fiction novel, The Father’s Tale, writes this conversation between a priest and the protagonist that clearly reflects our human experience:



“You see, Aleksandr, in each heart three trees grow. Life cuts them down, trims them, crafts them into crosses. Then they are lifted high on a hill – a hill like a skull. One is the cross of Jesus, the second the cross of the repentant thief, and third the cross of the unrepentant thief.  . . .


We like to think that in times of trial, we will suffer like Jesus. If we are a little bit realistic, we will say to ourselves, “No, I am not much like Him. Therefore I will be like the repentant thief, and go straight to Paradise.” But so often, when the trial arrives, we find to our dismay that in fact we are the unrepentant thief. . .”



“Yes, Alex said morosely, nodding.  “That is true.”


“This is not a cause for sadness,” the priest said with a smile and outstretched arms.  “This is a great victory. To see ourselves as we are is the precondition for repentance.  When we understand that we are the unrepentant thief, then and only then are the wellsprings of conversion opened to us.  We can turn to Jesus hanging in agony on his cross and beg forgiveness from him.  And on that day, we enter Paradise.”


Seeing Ourselves


“To see ourselves as we are is the precondition for repentance.”  It requires humility to recognize that we have failed to love God and neighbor with our thoughts, words and actions. To offer no excuses, justifications, and explanations for our lack of charity requires dismantling the bulky armor that defends our pride. Arrogance and self-righteousness obscure our objectivity.


When was the last time a loved one acknowledged that they wronged you?  When was the last time you approached someone to admit blame?  Challenging as it may be, repentance should be a solid thread in our lives as followers of Jesus.  Our lifelong transformation in love does not happen without it.  The Church gives us the season of Lent as a chance to see ourselves as we are, repent of sin, and return to the Father. 



5 Ways to Enter Repentance in Lent


Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  Repentance in lent allows us to experience the tender mercy of God for us, His children. Let us humble ourselves before God and enter into this penitential season as the chance to turn from sin and turn to God.  The following are 5 ways to enter repentance in lent:



  1. Ask God for the grace to recognize our own sins – what we have done and failed to do.
  2. Acknowledge our sins – Name the wrongful acts/thoughts and accept responsibility for them. When we are in a personal relationship with God, our sorrow for sin is motivated by faith and love of God.   
  3. Repent – Turn from the darkness of sin and turn to God for forgiveness and healing.  Only God forgives sins. Our merciful Father does not delay in embracing a repentant son or daughter. He is ready to make us new again.
  4. Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation – “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. (CCC 1440)”  Encountering Jesus in this Sacrament provides us not only absolution for our sins, but we also begin to receive healing from the effects of sin in our hearts.
  5. Receive grace – This return to God with all our heart effects interior conversion.  It will inflame us with the desire and resolution to change our lives with hope in God.  We start anew, reorienting our sight and trusting in Him.

The Gift of Lent

When Lent comes around, a little anecdote always helps me to take this penitential season seriously.  As I get older, I take it even more earnestly.  



Upon death, a person faces Jesus and says, “Lord, I did not have enough time to reform my life.” To which, Jesus replies, “I gave you Lent every year.”


We may be like the unrepentant thief: 5 ways to enter repentance in lent will turn Jesus’ mercy upon us. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord. Find that tiny door of repentance and enter through it. There, we will encounter Jesus, our God who emptied Himself on the cross for our sake.


(This blog post also appears in The Well.)


Servants Together

Our son, a college student, is home for the holidays.  As he is wont to do when at home, he goes out with old high school friends and he goes to the homeless shelter on Saturday mornings with his Dad. Every Saturday morning since he was three years old, my husband has brought him along to the local men’s emergency housing to meet the men there, have a devotional time with them and take them to breakfast.  


Our son remembers that once there was a man who was just released from jail the night before and had no shoes.  Another man hitch-hiked all the way from Alaska.  Weekly, several of the men engage in the Bible reading and discussion as many of them were raised in Christian homes and a number of them voice heart-felt prayers to God as the Holy Spirit ministers to them. Others ramble on about their lives, while others try to squeeze money from them with a sob story.  


Through the years, my husband and son have met a wide spectrum of men: old, young, sane, mentally-challenged, mild, angry, educated, and those with learning disabilities.  They listened to all their stories.   Father and son not only enter the homeless shelter on Saturday mornings, but many times, they are allowed to enter the hearts of men.  On several occasions, the Word of God cuts through the surface, prayer opens their hearts and they remember hope in Christ.



Compassion and Mercy

When our son was in high school and on days when my husband was out of town, he would get up early on Saturday morning, go to the shelter by himself, lead a devotion, facilitate discussion, open prayer and take these grown men to breakfast as he and his Dad usually do.  It never bothered him that the men responded to him differently than they did when his Dad was there.  Why would a teen give up his only possible morning to sleep-in for these random men?  Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said that welfare is for a purpose, whereas Christian love is for a person. 


Service is an integral part of the Christian life because it is a part of a life of love.  A Catholic engages in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as an instrument of God’s love for others.  It is a way of life, following in the way of Jesus.  Compassion and mercy are at work and go beyond in recognizing that everyone is our brother and sister in Christ.  Who else will show God’s love if not us, His children?



Tasting the Joy

As Christians called to love and serve one another, especially those in need, let us bring our children along as we serve.  Our children not only witness Christian service, learn many skills themselves, encounter various people in the community and recognize each one’s dignity, but they also begin to experience the grace of the Holy Spirit as an instrument of love and come to taste the joy that comes from giving of oneself to others.


Last Saturday, father and son came home with more than stories, they had peppermint candy canes from the Christmas  tree at the emergency housing.


The Lord Has Come

Ordinary Furniture

The Chinese missionary priest unlocked a small windowless room on the second floor, and we all took off our shoes as our family followed him into the room with the floor covered by a nylon mat.  The room was empty except for a low table at one end of the room, and on the table was a small box, and on each side of the box was an electric candle that was lit.  He bowed very low with his forehead almost touching the mat, and we did the same gesture.   


On closer look, the table was an ordinary coffee table and the small box was a cheap jewelry box like a miniature armoire with a clock on it that did not have the correct time.  In fact, the clock was not running.  Our children asked, “Where is the tabernacle?”  The priest pointed to the jewelry box as if he understood what our children asked.  The children tried to restrain their giggles.  Their gleeful amusement at an unexpected tabernacle with a clock was muted by a great effort to be reverent in the presence of Jesus.



Light of the World

“This is just like the first Christmas,” I thought.  It is like the manger where Mary and Joseph laid the Baby Jesus in that stable at Bethlehem.  Here, the Eucharist is placed in a plain jewelry box, probably the only thing this missionary priest could find to serve as a tabernacle when he came to establish the Church only a few years before with only ten Catholic Christians in this ancient small city.  


We all knelt there silently together, yet in our hearts, we praised God, “Glory to God in the highest!”  Jesus has come to this place that would qualify as one of “the ends of the earth.”   The people in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.  (Matthew 4:16)



Tabernacle of  Our Heart

In just a few years, many locals were baptized and the growing church gathered for Mass in a room on the third floor of the small building with no heat in the winter.  Most of our churches here in the USA are not locked and are heated in the winter.  Jesus not only remains with us in our beautiful tabernacles with red sanctuary lamps burning, but He comes to each one of us as we receive Him in Holy Communion.  Anytime of the day, we can turn interiorly and adore Him in the tabernacle that is our heart.  “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”


Keeping True to Advent

What is there more to do after Gaudete Sunday?  After the rose candle of the Advent wreath is lit,  many of us almost abandon the last purple candle.  The preparations for Christmas start to reach fever pitch as lists, presents, wrappers, home decorations, recipes, guests, and family traditions all vie for our imagination and attention.  But it is still Advent.  There is one more candle waiting to be lit.



There is One

What if we have properly observed Advent this year, prepared our hearts, and now are busy making ready for the Christmas celebrations and hear, “There is one thing you lack.”  If amidst the bustle we take the time to be still, and hear in the silence of our hearts that familiar hollow sound of something missing. 


For some, it feels like loneliness, for others deep sadness – even pain from a broken heart.  For others it may be guilt, meaninglessness, or despair.  The relative sufficiency that we may enjoy materially or even from good relationships does not fill the emptiness, because we lack the one thing.   


“There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”  (Luke 10:42) 


This Advent, are we preparing our hearts for the “one thing necessary?”  John the Baptist refers to Him as “one among you who you do not know.”  Are we ready to leave everything in order to sit at His feet?  Are we ready to sell all we have, give to the poor and follow Him; or will we leave sad because we have many possessions?  Are our hearts prepared to become undivided for Jesus, to be single-hearted?  This is where our advent waiting and preparation should lead us – to a desire for Jesus, who is our Savior – to desire Him above all else.  He is the ONE.



Choose the Better Part

To take away the wages of sin – which is death, that Adam and Eve brought to the human race, Jesus did the one thing necessary out of His immense love and unfathomable mercy for us.  He became flesh and dwelt among us, died on a cross and rose again to reconcile us to the Father.

Jesus means in Hebrew: “God saves.” At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave him the name Jesus as his proper name, which expresses both his identity and his mission. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 430)  Jesus is the Messiah, who brings glad tidings to us who are poor, company in our loneliness, healing for our broken hearts, and comfort in our sadness.  He brings forgiveness that takes away guilt, hope for meaning and purpose in our lives.  There is  need for only one thing – a relationship with Jesus.



Waiting No More

In Advent, there is another one who waits.  He has been waiting a long time to come to us.  He waits for the one thing: our invitation for Him to come into our hearts.  One more candle in the Advent wreath – it is the final preparation for Christmas.  This preparation happens at the core of our hearts. 


If at the center of our hearts, there are possessions that possess us, or other things that rule us, or even our selves that control its universe – this is the time to dislodge them.  They do not fill the emptiness, they do not heal, or free us.  They do not satisfy our hunger nor slake our thirst.  There is only one Savior.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!  We invite Jesus to take His rightful place in our hearts to reign over us, and we take our rightful place at His feet.  We will then be ready to celebrate Christmas with true joy because we will have that which is the most essential!


One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the LORD’s house
all the days of my life,
To gaze on the LORD’s beauty 
    –  Psalm 27:4

A Gift for Our Children – Part 2

By Tyler Wheeler


The Gift of Presence

I knew he was swamped with a to-do list three mountains high.  I knew he wasn’t sleeping much as he raced against time to stay on top of everything he was responsible for, yet he stood there and listened to me as if that to-do list didn’t exist, as if he had nothing else to do that day, as if he’d been getting a full night’s sleep for a month straight.  He listened to me as if listening to me was the most important thing he could do at that moment.  He, a priest from my parish, gave me the gift of his presence in that moment, which is to say, he loved me.  He gave me the gift of Jesus’ presence through his attentive listening.



A Gift Not Given

My list of things to do is much smaller than his.  I sleep many more hours than him, yet my children (and my wife) stay at the peripheries of my attention far too much.  I don’t give them the gift of my presence, which is to say, I don’t love them the way I should.  Thus, they are unable to experience the loving gaze of the Father through their father as fully as they deserve.



The Primary Gift

“One of the great crises of our day is that people are no longer capable of finding time for one another, time to be with one another. Here is something that causes many deep wounds…because parents never learned to spend time with them, with nothing else to do except be with their child. They look after the child, but they are always doing something else or are preoccupied, never entirely there, never totally available…”
Fr. Jacques Philippe, Time for God, pg. 30

Our kids need many things.  They need food, education, security, boundaries, friends, discipline and the list goes on, but above all what they need is us.  I won’t even say they need our time.  What they need is us, all of us.  Many things compete for our time and our kids’ time.  Many things compete for us and for our kids.  In the midst of all this competition, in the midst of all the noise, we must make sure that our kids get the best of us, the “first” part of us – not our leftovers, not our crumbs, not our “seconds”, but our attentive and loving self.


As a father who was working a more than full-time job that asked for all of who I was, I struggled mightily with this.  I was not alone, I wasn’t an extreme case.  As far as I can tell, this seems to be the norm now.  How can we reverse this?  How can we give our kids the best part of us?  How can we fulfill our primary vocation of being the presence of the Father in their lives while honoring the work that we need to do?  Our window to do such is really fairly small.  Our kids need all of us.


Here are a few suggestions for ways to give your kids the gift of your presence, the gift of the Father’s loving gaze, which is the gift God wants for His children.


  • This seems counter-intuitive but take time for yourself.  Take 20 minutes after the work day to prepare yourself to be available to your children.  Pray, ask the Lord to make you the parent your child(ren) need tonight.
  • While your child is talking about Pokeman cards for the 100th time, pray for the Lord’s eyes and heart for them.  Pray to see and love them the way He does.  Pray that your child will know this love through your presence.  Pray in the midst of the conversation.
  • Seek moments to be one-on-one with your child – possibly set up “date nights” with each child, time where they get you all to themselves and you can completely focus on them.
  • Put away distractions and temptations. Turn off the TV, hide the cell phone, shut down the computer.  I’m weak and need to remove temptations just as I would when I pray and want to give God all of my presence.

Putting it into Action

By Darcie Tallman


It had been a long day and I was sitting outside my three year-old daughter’s bedroom door.  She recently decided she wasn’t going to sleep in a crib anymore. I was wary and checking my email while sitting on the hallway floor waiting to get up for the umpteenth time to put her back in bed.  That’s when I received a message from Nannet asking if I could read a couple articles she had recently written for her blog, Domestic Church Institute.  As soon as I read her first article, Shaping Plan: 4 Areas of Growth in the Domestic Church, I felt the Holy Spirit talking to me.  I read it once, then again and again.  I encouraged my husband, Paul, to read it.  I went back to pray and began meditating on this idea of creating goals for our children that helps them grow holistically.  I felt excited and instantly began thinking how we could incorporate this into our family. 



My husband and I have always talked about ways we could help our children with various challenges and implemented things we wanted to incorporate to teach them about Jesus and our faith.  However, we had never formalized that process to the  extent of establishing annual goals written in a notebook that address four areas of formation: spiritual, moral/character, intellectual, and practical skills.   



Brainstorming Goals For Our Children


During a recent date night, Paul and I began the process by brainstorming the many goals we had for our children in each of these areas.  For example, for spiritual formation, we discussed things like establishing a personal prayer life, learning how to do a daily examen, keeping a prayer notebook, learning prayers/scripture, going to Adoration, reading the Youcat and other spiritual books.  For moral/character formation, we discussed the topics of sharing, being a good friend, obedience, giving of self, service opportunities, and leadership skills.  For intellectual, we talked about practicing more math skills, reading time, organization and time management.  Finally, some of the practical skills included learning to cook meals, doing the laundry, folding clothes and setting the table.


From that list, we considered each of our children, their ages and their strengths and weaknesses to determine what unique goals we wanted to prioritize during this year.



It was neat to see the kids excited as we sat down individually to present them with their own notebook and discuss their goals.  It was an awesome opportunity to affirm each of them and challenge them to continue growing in these areas as we strive to grow in holiness.



Our Role Now


Paul and I will now need to find many ways they can practice these goals.  We’ll begin joining them in prayer at the beginning until they understand how to pray and develop a personal prayer life with Jesus.  We’ll put our younger ones in a variety of situations where they can practice sharing.  We’ll bring our older kids with us more consistently to weekly Adoration.  We’ll definitely be sure to give our nine year-old lots of laundry practice and hopefully our youngest will quickly master the skill of staying in her big bed.  Well, we can hope for a miracle, right?!


We’ve just started to implement the ideas from Nannet’s blog post.  Paul and I have already noticed that the time we spend individually modeling and guiding prayer has provided opportunities to learn more about each child and their memorable experiences from the day.  We’ve been surprised at how it’s made a significant difference in our relationship with our children in such a short amount of time.

First Proclaimers of the Gospel

“Grandma, I know how Jesus died,” a grandson told his grandmother when they were in a nearby park one weekend while his parents were out of town.  The grandma was all ears because the parents of this grandson have by all accounts abandoned their Catholic faith and have not had their children baptized.​


He continued, “My friend (neighbor) told me.  They have one of those things you have on your fireplace,” referring to the crucifix.  His grandmother said to him, “Yes, Jesus died on a cross for us, but He became alive again after three days.”  At this, the boy’s eyes widened and asked, “Where is He?

How common do you think are there children being raised by Catholic parents who do not know Jesus either?​



It is Necessary to Use Words

In the domestic church, parents as its spiritual leaders are the first proclaimers of the Good News to their children.  Christian parents enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus and having an interior and spiritual life must announce to their children the Gospel and help their children to enter into that love relationship with God because through their Baptism, they have become children of God.  


First, there must be knowledge before love.  One can not love someone he doesn’t know.  Because “faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), we use our words to tell our children about God’s love; we read them Scripture to introduce them to the Word of God; we share with them our personal faith stories and experiences of God’s love.  No matter their age, children understand love and have the capacity to respond to love. ​



A Familiar Voice

In Lumen Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI explains that through the act of hearing, faith grows.  He mentions that by becoming familiar with a voice, one begins to know the speaker and a personal relationship develops.  When we call our children, they know our voices, they know it is us who is calling them.  They respond because of our relationship that is naturally there and we have a bond built on love.  Let us help our children to be accustomed to hearing the voice of God by teaching them how to pray; prayer as a conversation with God – having both components of talking and  listening.  


Together with them let us tune our ears to hear the words of Jesus by reading Scripture with them and sharing what the Church teaches about the Christian life.  Let us not fill our homes with noise so we can be comfortable with silence and be disposed to hear the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.  God will speak to us and our children when we are willing to listen.​



Knowing Our Father

So where is He?  Jesus says in John 14:18, “I shall not leave you orphans, I shall come to you.”  Again in John 14:23, ” . . .  “Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make a home in him.”  How will our children know they are not orphans?  


Where is he?  That is a question of an orphan looking for his father.  A child who knows his father asks, “Where are you?”

Shaping Plan: 4 Areas of Growth in the Domestic Church

Shaping Plan

The summer is the ideal time to put together a shaping plan for each of our children in 4 areas of growth in the domestic church.


The few weeks before school starts in the fall, we find that our kitchen calendar (or smartphone calendar) begins to fill up with schedules of sports, musical or church events for the children.  Let us take the time to build another sort of schedule for our domestic church.  This schedule is not one with time slots or dates, but a plan for each of our children for the coming year.  As they are one year older, a bit more mature than last year and more capable of doing a variety of work, we set some goals to aspire for and they serve as guides for us as parents.



4 Areas of Growth

To simplify this, there are four areas in which each of our children can grow every year in the domestic church: spiritual formation, moral/character formation, intellectual formation, and practical skills.  When our children were young, we had few and simple entries like – learn to pray the Our Father, learn how to say May I and Thank You, learn how to read, and learn how to set the table.  


Through the years, before the summer ends and school begins, my husband and I would sit down and together, look over how each child did with the goals set for them last year and decide what entries we write in for the coming year taking into account each of our children’s personality, age, strengths and weaknesses.  


As they got older, we showed them these goals and we were all clear as to what goals were set for them and they began to take on these targets for themselves.  Each of our children has a notebook where there are entries there since each was in Kindergarten – 5 years old.  They like leafing through to see the goals they have achieved in the past years.


As parents, our job in this is not so much daily reminding them of these goals but making plenty of opportunities for these goals to be reached.  We provide the home, the community, the encouragement and the affirmation.  As a family for instance – let us pray before bedtime and incorporate the Our Father.  Let us bring them to Mass and cue the child when the Our Father  comes up in the liturgy.  When someone needs help, let us teach them to turn to God and intercede for that person and end with the Our Father.



Training of the Will

Our children are not empty vessels into which we pour everything; rather, they are persons made in the image and likeness of God.  Their dignity, as in ours, includes the exercise of their free will.  In affirming their dignity, we as parents teach and form our children by the training and engagement of their will, not by making available to them a multitude of options for every choice.


This training and engagement happens in the small and daily stuff of family life.  When they have a clear goal before them, many opportunities to practice them, and an expectation to act rightly, they move their will to do it.  Many times, the children do not even need the customary pat on the back because the daily small sense of accomplishment serves as their reward.  As parents, we notice when they diligently employ their will and we diligently give them that positive feedback, “You did that very well.”


The daily routines of school work, extra-curricular activities, relationships and family life all can be opportunities to help our children grow and train their will.  Parents can take full advantage of all these opportunities if there is an over-arching plan for each of our children that makes all these seemingly separate areas into an integrated whole.