Public Repentance

October 6, 2023
Friday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Saint Bruno, Priest—Optional Memorial

Blessed Marie Rose Durocher, Virgin—USA Optional Memorial

Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” Luke 10:13

Have you ever sat in sackcloth and ashes? In the Gospel passage above, Jesus gives clear indication that doing so is a holy sign of responding to His preaching. He states that the pagan towns of Tyre and Sidon would have certainly sat in sackcloth and ashes if they would have been privileged to witness the mighty deeds done in the Jewish towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida.

“Sackcloth and ashes” were a common sign used to indicate interior repentance and sorrow for sin. There are many times throughout the Old Testament when this happened. Recall, for example, that when Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, everyone from the king down to the common citizen responded by expressing their repentance in this way (Jonah 3:5–7). Sackcloth was a rough and uncomfortable material usually made out of black goats hair, symbolizing the rejection of the false consolation of sin. Ashes symbolized desolation and destruction resulting from purifying fire. Of course, all of us do sit in ashes every Ash Wednesday as an external manifestation of our desire to repent. And though putting on actual sackcloth for clothing today may not be our literal practice, it is good to see the spiritual fruitfulness of these actions and to consider ways in which these actions can still be performed in our day and age. How might you sit in sackcloth and ashes today? What practical action can you take to publicly manifest your desire to turn from sin and toward the Gospel?

First of all, to properly answer this question, it’s important to recognize the fact that turning from sin should not only be a personal and interior act, it must also be exterior and manifest for others to see. Sin not only does harm to us individually, but it also damages others in varying degrees. Therefore, if your sin has done clear harm to others, it’s important to realize that you not only need to repent to God but that you must also repent in such a way that others see your repentance and sorrow.

So how might you repent in sackcloth and ashes today? There are many ways to do this. The essential quality present in such an act will be that it is clear to others that you are sorry for your sin and that you are attempting to change. If the sin you have committed toward another is grave, then your interior repentance must match the seriousness of your sin, and the exterior manifestation of that repentance must also measure up.

Reflect, today, upon some practical ways in which God is calling you to publicly manifest your “sitting in sackcloth and ashes” as a sign of your sorrow toward those against whom you have sinned. For example, if your sin is that of anger and you have regularly harmed another by that sin, then don’t only repent to God, look also for external ways to manifest your sorrow to them. Perhaps do some form of manifest service for them. Or engage in a public act of penance, such as fasting, as a way of showing them you are sorry. Manifest charitable good works, service, prayer, public penance and the like are all ways that you can spiritually and practically sit “in sackcloth and ashes” today.

My merciful Lord, You call me to daily repent of my sin and to do so through the manifest signs of sitting “in sackcloth and ashes.” Give me the grace of true sorrow for my sins and help me to sincerely repent as I trust in Your mercy. As I do, please also guide me so that I may humble myself and express my sorrow in manifest ways toward those against whom I have sinned. May this humble act bring healing and unity in You. Jesus, I trust in You.